REGION — The San Diego County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to take a position next week on a lawsuit filed by the Trump administration that challenges the state’s so-called sanctuary laws. One political expert said the vote could have far-reaching implications on the electoral landscape this fall.
In March, Orange County became the first Southern California county to support the federal government’s challenge of SB 54, known as the “California Values Act,” which prohibits local law enforcement from sharing information about undocumented immigrants — including their release from custody.
Supporters of the law said that local law enforcement should not be using resources or time doing the job of federal immigration officers. Opponents argue that the law erodes public safety by not allowing authorities to report undocumented immigrants who commit certain crimes to federal immigration officers, which could lead to deportation.
In San Diego, the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss the lawsuit and another lawsuit seeking to block the Trump administration from asking respondents about their citizenship status on the 2020 United States census at its April 17 meeting.
“As Chairwoman of the Board, I have asked County Counsel to add the sanctuary city and census lawsuits to our next closed session meeting scheduled for April 17,” Kristin Gaspar said in a statement.
“I want to be clear that the core of this discussion is public safety. I have been vocal in my support of upholding the law and protecting the 3.5 million people who call San Diego home. This issue was already decided in 2012 when the Obama-led Department of Justice and Supreme Court determined that local laws can’t override Federal law. I have asked our Counsel to prepare to discuss all of our options with regard to the current lawsuit during our April 17th meeting,” Gaspar said.
The sanctuary city lawsuit came up at the board’s last meeting in March, but it could not be discussed it since it was not on the agenda.
Dozens of states and cities across the country — including several in Southern California — have either adopted resolutions or filed amicus briefs in support of the suit.
Since the deadline to file a brief will have passed when the board will discuss it, the board could either pass a resolution in support or opposition to it or potentially file a civil action of its own against the state.
At least one board member — Dianne Jacob — has publicly called for support of the lawsuit. Speaking of the state’s law, she argued that SB 54 is unconstitutional and undermines public safety. Gaspar, in several television interviews, has also expressed a desire to do something more than a resolution in support of the lawsuit.
Supervisors Ron Roberts and Greg Cox appear to be against supporting the lawsuit. Bill Horn has not publicly stated a position.
UCSD Political Science professor Thad Kousser said that while a resolution would be symbolic, it could have real political implications in San Diego, which voted overwhelmingly in favor of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election and has leaned Democrat in voter registration in recent years.
Several Republican congressional districts have been declared “toss ups” by political pundits, but if the election becomes a referendum on illegal immigration, it could give Republicans a tailwind come November, Kousser said.
“What this means and what this could kick off if San Diego does this in a blue county, it creates huge momentum for things like a referendum challenging the law,” Kousser said. “That would highlight the issue and would be the first thing that really excites and turns out Donald Trump’s base in these critical congressional elections in L.A., San Diego and Orange County.”
For Gaspar, who is running for the 49th Congressional District seat being vacated by Darrell Issa (R-Vista), the strategy of supporting the Trump administration’s stance on immigration could help her ascend toward the top of a crowded June primary field, but would become problematic come November, Kousser said.
“I think she has doubled down on her support for Donald Trump and his immigration policies,” Kousser said. “She’s trying to play to the base to become the front runner for her party in the 49th, which has given her a national profile and a clear distinction between her and, say, Rocky Chavez. But it creates big problems for her in November in this district.”
Meanwhile, immigration activists have been lobbying the board this week in an effort to dissuade them from supporting the lawsuit. The San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium Monday kicked off a week of action, including plans to meet with members of the Board of Supervisors, call residents, campaign via social media and continue an online petition effort ahead of the April 17 meeting.