San Diego County to Join Lawsuit Against SB 54, California's Sanctuary State Law

What to Know

  • California is home to an estimated 2.3 million immigrants without legal authorization
  • Under SB54, police cannot ask people about their immigration status or participate in federal immigration enforcement actions
  • Jail officials may transfer inmates to federal immigration authorities only if they have been convicted of certain crimes

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted to join the Department of Justice’s lawsuit against the state of California over laws that limit police collaboration with immigration enforcement agents.

The California Values Act or Senate Bill 54 took effect January 1 and sets limits on how much local police can help federal immigration authorities.

The measure was dubbed a sanctuary state bill because it sought to expand so-called sanctuary city policies that have long been in place in some of California's biggest cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 1 in favor of joining the lawsuit with yes votes from Supervisors Dianne Jacob, Kristin Gaspar, and Bill Horn.

The board released the following statement Tuesday afternoon:

“The United States of America v. The State of California, a case alleging that a state law that limits cooperation with federal immigration officials is preempted by federal law, by a vote of 3-1, with Supervisors Jacob, Gaspar, and Horn voting “Aye” and Supervisor Cox voting “Nay” and Supervisor Roberts absent, authorize County Counsel to file an amicus brief supporting the position of the United States at the first available opportunity, which is likely to be on appeal.”

Supervisor Greg Cox voted against filing the brief. He released a written statement saying he believes the problem lies in Washington, D.C. 

"We need leaders in both parties to finally come up with comprehensive immigration reform," Cox said.

He added he felt joining the lawsuit was unnecessary.

"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.

“Those that are representing us in Sacramento do not represent the people,” said Jacob when she briefed the media on today's vote. “Our state legislature is out of touch.”

Gaspar said the board received more than 800 pieces of correspondence supporting the decision however she admitted the board did not cross-reference to make sure the emails were from residents of San Diego County. 

Both Gaspar and Jacob repeatedly said the decision was based on maintaining public safety and keeping criminals out of the region. 

Ron Roberts, who had said he was opposed to joining the suit, was absent from the meeting.

The ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties responded to the board's vote, calling it "troubling" and ignorant.

“Our Board of Supervisors’ decision to align with the Trump lawsuit against the State of California is troubling for many reasons: It disregards our shared values and common destiny as Californians; it ignores the recommendations of law enforcement experts, including Sheriff Bill Gore and former San Diego Police Chief David Bejarano...," the statement read in part.

The ACLU also said the DOJ's lawsuit was without merit and "seeks to undermine our state’s constitutionally-protected authority to allocate limited state resources to priorities that ensure the safety and well-being of all California residents and communities."

The statement ended with a call for the board to rescind its decision and instead "stand with San Diego County and stand with California."

A statement from the San Diego County Sheriff's Department was also released Tuesday, saying the department would continue to comply with the California Values Act.

"The Sheriff's Department has and will continue to comply with the Trust, Truth and California Values Acts. My deputies work hard to make our communities safe and we want to ensure all of our residents feel comfortable reporting crimes or coming forward as witnesses to criminal acts. Law enforcement at all levels in the San Diego region has a strong culture of cooperation. The Sheriff's Department will continue to comply with state law and will closely follow the federal lawsuit against the State of California where this level of cooperation will ultimately be determined."

The San Diego Organizing Project called the decision harmful. 

"Our faith community will work tirelessly to elect true representatives who understand that we are better and stronger together, said board member Gloria Morales-Palos.

"Today's action was the very definition of leadership," U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R) 50th District said.

Senator Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) said she was "disappointed" in the board's decision and said the state's bills were designed to protect public safety.

“I’m disappointed in the Board majority for taking this misguided action. These bills were carefully crafted to be legal and constitutional, and to protect public safety. SB 54 does not shield violent and dangerous criminals from deportation, and it does not prevent federal immigration authorities from doing their job. 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.”

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.

Officials with the city of Escondido voted 4-1 on April 4 in support of the Trump administration's lawsuit against California's "sanctuary state" status. 

Earlier Tuesday, dozens of people signed up to speak to the supervisors before the scheduled vote took place in closed session. 

Check back for updates on this developing story.

seeks to undermine our state’s constitutionally-protected authority to allocate limited state resources to priorities that ensure the safety and well-being of all California residents and communities.
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