Supervisors Vote 3-1 to Back ‘Sanctuary’ Challenge, But Deadline Has Passed

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The historic San Diego County administration building. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The county Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted 3-1 to file a court brief siding with the Trump Administration in its lawsuit against California’s so-called sanctuary state law.

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With the vote, San Diego County became California’s most populous county to rebuke state policies aimed at protecting immigrants from deportation. The sanctuary state law, Senate Bill 54, limits cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. It’s intent is to encourage immigrants to report crimes and work with police without fear of deportation.

San Diego County’s approach differs from that of the Orange County supervisors, who voted last month to join the suit. Instead, the San Diego County attorney will draft an amicus brief in support of the case, which will allow officials to offer their opinion without actually becoming involved in the courtroom fight.

However, the deadline to file such a brief has passed, meaning the earliest opportunity San Diego County will have to weigh in on the case will be if and when a decision in this case is appealed by the losing party to a higher court.

Kristin Gaspar. Photo by Ken Stone

“Public safety is our number one priority,” said Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, who chairs the Board of Supervisors and is running for Congress. “Here in San Diego it’s important to note how our law enforcement’s hands are being tied by SB 54.”

Earlier Tuesday, before the meeting, she tweeted, “Enough is enough! Governor Jerry Brown needs to follow the laws of our Constitution.”

Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who has been a vocal opponent of the law, said she has seen a lot of changes along the 50-mile span of the U.S.-Mexico border in her district since she took office in the 1990s.

“We used to have people coming across our border who just wanted to work,” she said. “That has changed over the years. It’s changed to the extent where we have people on the terrorist watch list coming across the border.”

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However, she later clarified “she was told” of at least one person on a terrorist watch list crossing into the U.S. illegally, but was unable to provide details of the case and did not specify who provided her with that information.

San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox. File photo

Supervisor Greg Cox was the lone dissenter in the 3-1 vote. Supervisor Ron Roberts was absent but said his colleagues should “stay out of it.”

Cox said he voted no because he believed the problem lies in Washington.

“We need leaders in both parties to finally come up with comprehensive immigration reform,” Cox said in a statement. “The county joining the lawsuit between the federal and state governments is unnecessary because this is an issue that is properly going to be addressed by the federal courts.”

Cox called vote 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.”

State Senate leader Toni Atkins, who represents coastal San Diego County, also criticized the move, calling it a “misguided action.”

“SB 54 does not shield violent and dangerous criminals from deportation, and it does not prevent federal immigration authorities from doing their job,” she said. “We’ve worked hard to bring our undocumented immigrant communities out of the shadows and into society because research shows it makes our state safer and more prosperous for all. I firmly believe California is on the right side of history and I stand by our commitment to these laws.”

Under SB 54, state and local law enforcement are allowed to share with immigration authorities information about a person who has been charged with one of 800 crimes, including violent felonies, arson, domestic abuse and other felonies.

As evidence of the support among San Diegans for joining the lawsuit, Gaspar showed reporters the correspondence the supervisors received on the matter. Letters in favor of the county siding with the federal government towered over those written by those who supported sanctuary policies, she said.

But during Tuesday’s public meeting, sanctuary state advocates greatly outnumbered supporters of the lawsuit: 17 registered their support of President Donald Trump’s administration and 62 were against it, according to Gaspar.

“The California Values Act (SB 54) does indeed exemplify the values of California,” the Rev. Beth Johnson of Palomar Unitarian Universalist Fellowship told the supervisors. “It makes our communities safer by allowing law enforcement to do their jobs by making community members feel safe to report crimes.”

Other supporters of the sanctuary law said it offers protections for immigrant families and helps keep the economy strong by recognizing the contributions of non-citizens, including their payment of taxes and their labor.

Assemblyman Todd Gloria of San Diego said in a statement that the board majority “has yet again demonstrated that they are out-of-touch.”

“Rather than tackling urgent local problems facing San Diego County like homelessness or providing mental health services, the board chose to engage in political posturing that serves no practical purpose other than to divide our community,” he said.

“If the Board truly understood the California Values Act, they would understand that this bill ensures state and local law enforcement does its job, not the job of the federal government. It is designed to allow local governments to focus on solving the local problems voters elected and entrusted them to fix. By jumping into the national immigration debate, the Board majority illustrated precisely why this state law is necessary.”

Gloria said the vote represents the “clearest sign yet that significant and structural changes are needed [in] the county.”

The threat of deportation causes negative mental health effects on immigrants and their families, said Janet Farrell of the San Diego Psychological Association.

“Deportation causes the breakup of families,” she said. “The California sanctuary laws give some protection to the breakup of our immigrant families without compromising the safety of the general population.”

Local governments in recent weeks have taken varying approaches to weighing in on the sanctuary state issue, from adopting resolutions to voting to file lawsuits themselves.

The city council in San Juan Capistrano, for instance, recently passed a resolution against SB 54. Resolutions are largely symbolic statements of a government’s stance.

Aliso Viejo, Escondido and Mission Viejo are among the cities whose leaders have voted to file amicus briefs in support of the Trump administration’s position. Such briefs are often submitted by those who have an interest in a court case but are not parties in the lawsuit.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted last month to join the lawsuit, while the Huntington Beach City Council voted recently to file its own suit.

The Los Alamitos City Council voted on Monday night to “exempt” the city from the sanctuary law.

National attention turned to San Diego County as its leaders considered weighing in on the lawsuit.

In a statement from Washington, East County Congressman Duncan D. Hunter called the board’s action “the very definition of leadership.”

“In standing up against the irresponsible actions by the State of California, our county supervisors who supported this action clearly demonstrated that their priorities are protecting those of us in San Diego County and not about politics,” he said.

“The fact of the matter is, when state and local law enforcement agencies outright refuse to share information to federal officials regarding criminal activity, our communities are unsafe and the rule of law is undermined. It’s not complicated.”

The decision is likely to be a defining moment in the political career of Gaspar, who is running in a closely watched congressional race in a district that Democrat Hillary Clinton carried in the 2016 presidential election with just over 50 percent of the vote.

The Republican incumbent in the 49th District, Rep. Darrell Issa of Vista, is not seeking reelection. In 2016, he narrowly defeated Democrat Doug Applegate, who is among the candidates facing off against Gaspar in the June primary.

“We are bringing in unvetted people,” said Jonathan Adler of Los Angeles. “I don’t think it’s OK for law enforcement to wait until they commit a serious crime. Maybe they’ve murdered, raped, committed a serious crime in another country.”

Eric Wood of the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce said the laws put business owners in an uncomfortable position due to the tension between federal law and state law.

“Law enforcement should be able to work together — not in opposition to each other as this law dictates,” he said.

— From Staff and Wire Reports

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