In Trump vs. California's Sanctuary Laws, Another County Sides Against Its State

by | April 18, 2018

By Kate Morrissey

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 to support the Trump administration's lawsuit against California over laws that the state passed last year to limit its role in immigration enforcement.

The county will file an amicus brief at the first available opportunity, likely if and when the case moves to a higher court on appeal, said Kristin Gaspar, supervisor for the county district stretching from Miramar to Encinitas and Escondido and chairwoman of the board.

The San Diego County supervisors who voted to support the lawsuit said for them, it was about public safety.

"We're talking about people who are crossing the border illegally, coming into this county and committing a crime and them being let loose probably to commit another crime," said Dianne Jacob, supervisor for the district that covers East County. "That creates a public safety issue and creates a problem in our neighborhoods."

She worried about terrorists crossing the border illegally, she said.

"This is a different day than it was 20, 30, 40 years ago," Jacob said. "That's why it was important for us to stand up, as controversial as it was."

Gaspar said San Diego was safer before SB 54 went into effect.

"The status quo was safer in San Diego," she said, adding that now immigration officers make more arrests out in the community because they can't make those arrests at jails. "The best place for ICE to be is in the jail and not out in the community."

During the announcement, Gaspar showed printouts of emails she received from each side of the debate. The stack of emails criticizing her for considering supporting the lawsuit was not much thicker than a legal pad. The stack of emails asking her to support the Trump administration's legal challenge to California was well over a foot thick.

Gaspar, Jacob and Supervisor Bill Horn, who represents the northernmost part of the county, voted to support the lawsuit. Supervisor Greg Cox, whose district covers the South Bay, voted against it. Supervisor Ron Roberts, who represents central San Diego, was traveling abroad and did not attend the meeting.

Cox said immigration issues need to be solved in Washington.

"The board's vote is a largely symbolic move that will create fear and divisiveness in our region, waste taxpayer funds and create distrust of law enforcement and local government within many communities," Cox said.

The Department of Justice filed the lawsuit against California at the beginning of March over three laws.

SB 54, the law that received the most publicity when it passed, limits the ways in which local police can interact with federal immigration officials. Under the law, police can turn immigrants over to federal immigration enforcement agencies only if they have committed crimes listed in the legislation. It says local police cannot participate in task forces that are focused on immigration enforcement.

It also requires the California Attorney General to set policies limiting assistance with immigration enforcement at public schools, libraries and hospitals.

AB 103 prohibits local governments across California from adding new contracts with the federal government for civil immigration detention or expanding old ones. It also requires the California Attorney General's office to monitor conditions in existing immigration detention facilities in the state.

AB 450 says that employers cannot voluntarily allow immigration officials into non-public areas of the workplace unless the officers have judicial warrants. It also requires employers to notify employees about upcoming immigration inspections.

Several critics of the decision cited a January 2017 study by UC San Diego professor Tom Wong, published by the Center for American Progress, that found crime rates are higher in non-sanctuary counties. (When asked about the study, Gaspar declined to comment, saying she hadn't seen it.)

In a tense open session where murmurs of alternating discontent and approval rippled through the crowd packed into the board's chambers, a long line of speakers addressed the board Tuesday morning.

The twelve people who supported the lawsuit told supervisors that the laws in question were an overreach of state power and worried that they would inhibit the federal government from deporting people with criminal convictions.

Luis Reyes told the board that he worried "pockets of California were becoming 'no go zones.'"

"Something that's happening in Europe is coming this way," Reyes said.

Stella May told the board that "the laws act to protect criminal illegals."

She used the example of Kate Steinle, an case often cited by President Donald Trump and his supporters. Steinle, 32, was fatally shot by a man who'd been released from a San Francisco jail a few months beforehand and had several previous deportations.

Cyrus Hojjaty, a 25-year-old Las Vegas resident whose family is from Iran, said that California's policies were "embarrassing" and "disgusting." He said his parents "did it the right way."

He worried that his state's border with California would mean those policies have an effect where he lives.

"You go to Europe, they're being flooded with non-whites," he said.

At least 23 people against supporting the lawsuit spoke next. Another 12 had to leave before their names were called but participated in a rally outside the county building before the meeting began.

At the rally, many called on San Diegans to vote the supervisors out of office if they agreed to support the lawsuit.

They worried that allowing local police to work closely with federal immigration officials would create less safe communities because immigrant victims or witnesses wouldn't call the police.

"This proposal is only about fear and hatred," Neal José Wilkinson, a priest at a Barrio Logan church, told the crowd outside the building. "We need law enforcement to protect all of our people, regardless of immigration status. If they're not protecting all of us, they're not protecting any of us."

Ismahan Abdullahi of the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans said San Diego's strength is its diversity.

"Led by our values, we want to take our region forward, not backward," Abdullahi said.

Many accused Gaspar of bringing the issue to a county vote to gain media attention for her campaign to take the Congressional seat of Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista.

Inside the board chambers, Milad Torabi, a member of San Diego Border Dreamers, told the supervisors that immigrant communities are "the eyes and ears" for local police.

He argued that SB 54 does not prohibit immigration officials from detaining people who have committed crimes, but rather holds federal officials to law enforcement standards that local police have, like the requirement of a judicial warrant.

Some criticized the pro-lawsuit perspective as "racist" or "white nationalist," and others pointed out that despite San Diego's diverse population, none of the supervisors are people of color.

Still others told the supervisors that a yes-vote would be on the wrong side of history and asked them what legacy they wanted to leave behind.

The city of Escondido voted to support the Trump administration's lawsuit earlier in April.

(c)2018 The San Diego Union-Tribune