San Diego

County Sues Federal Gov. Over End of Safe Release Program for Asylum Seekers

County Supervisors say the county has spent more than $1 million supporting thousands of asylum seekers waiting for their cases to be processed in court since the end of the program.

The county of San Diego is suing the federal government over the abrupt end to the Safe Release program and the resulting strain placed on county resources in caring for thousands of asylum seekers waiting in the county while their cases are processed.

The county’s claim targets the end of the Safe Release program last October, a policy change made by President Donald Trump’s administration that has resulted in a large number of asylum seekers staying within the county while their claims are being processed.

According to the claim, asylum seekers previously would only “pass through” the county on their way to a final destination — the residence of a friend, family member, or point of contact in the U.S that could house and support them while their claims are processed in immigration court. That was before the administration stopped providing them with assistance getting to those locations outside of the county.

The county says it has been forced to use more resources, and spend more taxpayer money, to provide support for asylum seekers who are now forced to stay in the San Diego area. The county says it’s also protecting its residents against what it called a public health crisis.

The administration’s policy change violates the Administrative Procedure Act, according to the claim, and the county is seeking a judicial declaration that would deem the change unlawful.

It also wants the federal government to resume providing assistance to asylum seeking families in getting to locations outside the county where they can wait for their cases to be processed.

That governmental assistance includes helping asylum seekers get in touch with points of contact in the U.S. and transporting them to the cities across the country where their points of contact reside.

The lawsuit names Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Deputy Director Ronald Vitiello, ICE Associate Executive Director Matthew Albence, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, and Chief of Border Patrol Carla Provost.

In response to the lawsuit, District 4 County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said, “Donald Trump’s inhumane immigration policies are wrong. His failure does not remove our obligation to do the right thing to help families legally seeking asylum in the United States. I am proud our County is stepping-up to take on Trump. I hope other jurisdictions will join us in this lawsuit.”

Supervisor Dianne Jacob, representing District 2, said, “The federal government’s negligent approach to those seeking asylum is taking a huge toll on San Diego County taxpayers. The county has already spent over $1.3 million to address health and safety issues at the asylum shelter. That figure is ballooning by the day. We are asking the court to require the feds to reinstate the Safe Release program and not leave local governments, non-profits and taxpayers holding the bag. This lawsuit isn’t about broad immigration issues or border security.”

The Department of Homeland Security has not responded to NBC 7's request for comment.

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