San Diego County to Consider Joining Federal 'Sanctuary State' Lawsuit

Only one of five GOP supervisors is wholeheartedly endorsing effort so far

sanctuary state protest
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March 30, 2018

San Diego County officials are weighing whether to join forces with Orange County in a revolt against the state's so-called sanctuary law.

The County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday announced it would consider proposals to join two lawsuits involving federal government policies at its next closed-door session April 17.

One proposal would commit the board to joining the Trump administration's lawsuit against the state's sanctuary law, officially known as the California Values act, or SB54. The law restricts local law enforcement's ability to communicate with federal immigration authorities.

The other proposal would support the legal battle the state's Democratic Attorney General Xavier Becerra has launched against the Commerce Department's inclusion of the citizenship question on the 2020 census.

The inclusion of the citizenship question, announced Monday, has sparked a fierce debate in states with large immigrant populations. Democrats argue that the question's inclusion would depress illegal immigrant participation in the census, thereby reducing populations in heavily Hispanic areas.

Population information collected from the census is used to determine the number of congressional districts a state is apportioned every 10 years.

With nearly 5 million Californians having left the state over the last decade, it was already on the brink of losing one district. Democrats worry it could likely lose several more if the census does not reflect the total number of illegal immigrants living in the state.

So far, only one of the five all-Republican county supervisors has committed to supporting the federal lawsuit against the sanctuary law.

County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who represents the more conservative eastern part of San Diego, said she is enthusiastically backing the anti-sanctuary state proposal.

"I've always supported the great working relationship between the Sheriff's Department and federal law enforcement agencies, and it needs to continue," she said in a statement. "I support the county joining the lawsuit and look forward to this being on the next closed session agenda."

Several other supervisors have been more tight-lipped about their position. Kristin Gaspar, the chairman of the board and a former mayor of more politically divided North County coastal town of Encinitas, has stayed mum on her position.

Gaspar, who is running for the congressional seat left open by Rep. Darrell Issa's retirement, simply announced that the board would take up the two lawsuit proposals at their April 17th meeting without indicating how she would vote on either.

Supervisor Greg Cox appeared to oppose supporting the federal lawsuit against the state.

"On the subject of SB54, I agree with our sheriff," Cox said in a statement. "Our sheriff's deputies are not and should not be forced to carry out immigration duties. The problem lies not in Sacramento, but in D.C., where Congress and the administration have failed to fix a flawed immigration system."

When it comes to the census question, he didn't signal exactly which side he's on.

"With regard to the census question, I think it is important that we get the most accurate count possible as census data is what drives how federal dollars are distributed and how congressional seats are apportioned, among other critical decisions."

The three other supervisors have been more circumspect on the issue. A spokesman for Supervisor Ron Roberts said only that he has no plans to bring a sanctuary motion forward similar to that of Orange County. A spokeswoman for Supervisor Bill Horn did not respond to the inquiry.

Orange County's supervisors voted 3-0 earlier this week to join the federal lawsuit. That pushback came after the small 12,000-population city of Los Alamitos voted to adopt an ordinance that would opt-out of the sanctuary law. Yorba Linda, another Orange County city, said it would file an amicus brief in support of the Justice Department's lawsuit.

Additionally, Orange County's Sheriff Department opposed the sanctuary law when the Democrat-controlled state legislature was considering it last year. Late last week, the sheriff decided to publicly post all inmate release information to alert U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials of the release dates of illegal immigrants accused or convicted of crimes.

The San Diego Sheriff's Department has had a similar policy of posting online inmate release information, as well as arrest warrants and restraining orders, since 2017. The online posting has nothing to do with immigration status, but provides more transparency and efficiency, the department has said.

The county, which shares a border with Mexico, is home to 3.3 million people, 33.5 percent of whom consider themselves Hispanic or Latino, according to the most recent census data.

The supervisors may be trying to follow the lead of San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a Republican who has walked a tight rope on the issue of immigration. Faulconer often boasts that he won his election with 40 percent of the Latino vote in a city where just 25 percent of voters are registered Republican by reaching out to Latino voters and not alienating them.

While Faulconer rails against Sacramento's Democrat-controlled legislature, on immigration issues he has emphasized the need to support legal immigration and for Californians of all political stripes to protect the legal status of so-called dreamers, children born in or brought to the United State early in their lives by their parents.

He has said that San Diego is not a "sanctuary city" and "never will be," but also has stressed the importance of city police not serving as immigration agents and inquiring about immigrants legal status so officers can maintain a good relationship with immigrants who could be witnesses or victims of crimes.

Unlike Orange County, a conservative enclave with a three-percent GOP edge in voting registrations, San Diego County is more divided by community and city.

The heavily Hispanic city of Chula Vista, located near the San Diego border with Mexico, in September voted to support the state's sanctuary laws.

Before the sanctuary state debate came up last year, several cities in San Diego County, including Lemon Grove, Encinitas, and Solana Beach, voted to declare themselves "welcoming cities," a designation that has little practical effect but was intended to make arriving immigrants, regardless of legal status, feel welcomed and help them integrate into the communities.

The mayor for the border city of Imperial Beach declared it a "welcoming city" in 2016, but the city revoked the designation after a public outcry.