Following a three-hour meeting filled with name-calling and impassioned pleas, the Escondido City Council voted 4-1 Wednesday to file a legal brief in support of the U.S. government's lawsuit challenging the state's sanctuary laws.
The action is the first by a San Diego County city. The county Board of Supervisors is expected to discuss filing a similar brief during a closed-door meeting April 17.
More than 70 people spoke during a public meeting in a packed City Council chambers. The majority of those addressing the resolution to join the federal lawsuit spoke against it, with others strongly in favor.
The divide was familiar in a city that has found itself embroiled in immigration issues for more than a decade, including an unsuccessful effort to punish landlords renting to immigrants in the country illegally.
Escondido City Atty. Michael McGuinness said the city was not suing the state, only filing a legal brief in support of the Trump administration's lawsuit, which contends the California laws violate federal law.
Police Chief Craig Carter said federal immigration officers have worked closely with Escondido police since 2009. But as of January, when the new state laws went into effect, he said, immigration officials no longer have a desk in police headquarters and local officers are forbidden in most circumstances from asking people about their immigration status.
Mayor Sam Abed and Councilman John Masson, who together placed the item on the agenda, contended the action the council was considering was not about immigration but about public safety.
They contended the state laws hurt the city's predominantly Latino community, saying that because federal agents can't work with local police, they are arresting some people who are not criminals.
"When [the laws] got passed and we were no longer able to deal with ICE, that relationship with ICE disappeared," Masson said. "So, no longer do we have control over our community and who we go after in our community, which was very controlled through our [police department]."
Abed used the occasion to challenge Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Legislature.
"Your Sacramento is now politically, ethically and morally corrupt," Abed said. "Gov. Brown, I promised you a year ago we would sue the state" if Senate Bill 54 became law.
City Councilwoman Olga Diaz said she was embarrassed to sit through yet another meeting with so many of the same hurtful things being said. And she questioned the real reason for the council's filing of a brief that she said would be of no legal consequence.
"It's the big talk and the ego," she told Abed. "You've got a promise to Jerry Brown that we're going to sue him so this is our big chance? Now it all makes sense. I don't respect it. I don't think this is an appropriate use of our time or space, but I understand it now."
Diaz cast the lone vote against the resolution.
A number of speakers insulted Diaz, and others targeted Abed and Masson, calling them racists and xenophobes.
One speaker, 17-year-old Maria Martinez, told that council that she was a city resident in the country illegally whose father was deported in October.
"How shameful of you to think that tearing families apart will help the community," she said. "This unethical behavior has to be stopped. If the sanctuary law is not in place, more behavior like this will continue."
Prior to the council meeting, about 200 people rallied in front of City Hall against the resolution. and featured numerous representatives of Latino civil rights groups.
The rally was interrupted repeatedly, including by Jennifer Harrison, who drove to Escondido from Arizona and chanted into a bullhorn, "We have the right to deport you if you are illegal."
The Arizonan later attended the council meeting, shouting, "They are illegal aliens, not immigrants."
At the rally, Minister Sharon Wylie, acknowledged the disruption: "What you see here is exactly what we've come to expect from the city of Escondido: people so frightened by immigrant voices that they will do anything to silence them.
A representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has repeatedly been at odds with Escondido, condemned the city council's action.
"Escondido's proposal is an offensive endorsement of the Trump administration's anti-immigrant agenda," said Roberto Alcantar.
"Too often, the Escondido City Council has unjustly blamed the city's problems, such as traffic, parking and housing, on immigrants. Perhaps, the real problem in Escondido is the City Council's xenophobia."
McGuinness, the Escondido city attorney, said the brief will be filed Friday.