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San Diego County to sue Trump administration over handling of asylum-seeking families

San Diego County to sue Trump administration over handling of asylum-seeking families
A father and daughter from Guatemala at a shelter in San Diego. (John Gastaldo / TNS)

Last year the San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted to support President Trump’s lawsuit against California over its “sanctuary state” laws.

Now, the county supervisors plan to sue the Trump administration for how it is treating certain immigrants.

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The county board voted in closed session Tuesday to pursue legal action against the administration over its handling of asylum-seeking families.

Before October, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement connected asylum seekers with sponsors or family members in the United States while they waited for the legal asylum process to play out. It was called a “safe release” program.

Now, federal policies have changed and asylum seekers are being processed by ICE and then released into communities such as San Diego without any resources, leaving thousands of migrants all but stranded.

The suit aims to reimburse the county for the cost of serving asylum seekers and to compel the federal government to re-implement a “safe release” program, said Dianne Jacob, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors.

“We are intent on sending a strong message to the administration that this unacceptable,” Jacob said. “It’s wrong that the federal government is dumping on San Diegans not only from a cost standpoint and a humanitarian standpoint, but this is also a federal issue and the feds need to be held accountable and do their job.”

The lawsuit will be officially filed in about 30 days, Jacob said. She did not say how many supervisors voted for it Tuesday.

After the safe release practices ended in October, a coalition of more than two dozen local nonprofits known as the San Diego Rapid Response Network set up a temporary shelter for migrant families.

The network has provided humanitarian aid and transportation assistance to more than 5,200 migrants — mostly families with young children — since November. But the network’s shelter had been forced to change locations five times, until January, when the county allowed an old courthouse downtown to become a shelter for asylum seekers until the end of this year.

Under an agreement with Jewish Family Service, one of the partners in the Rapid Response Network, the coalition of nonprofits will operate the shelter and bear all ongoing costs.

In a statement Tuesday, the Rapid Response Network commended the Board of Supervisors for pursuing the lawsuit and “holding the Trump administration accountable for its anti-immigrant policies and tactics.”

The network added that it is interested in learning details of the lawsuit.

“In the interim, we will continue working with the county of San Diego and other government and non-government partners to support these families in exercising their legal, human right to seek safety and protection from violence and persecution in their home countries,” the network said in a statement.

Jacob said the Board of Supervisors is not being inconsistent. She said that Trump’s lawsuit against California deals with illegal immigrants, but the county’s proposed lawsuit against his administration seeks to support legal immigration, including those who are seeking asylum.

Last month the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy went into effect. That policy requires asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their claim undergoes the legal process.

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That policy will probably face a legal challenge, observers say.

In the interim, individuals have already been sent back to Mexico, but it is unclear when or if that policy will be enforced on asylum-seeking families.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who voted in support of the board’s lawsuit, said in a statement, “While we wait for the courts to weigh in, San Diego County will not abandon asylum seekers. We are committed to continuing our work with the San Diego Rapid Response Network and the state of California to ensure humane and compassionate treatment for all.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom and San Diego state legislators have also prioritized the asylum-seeker issue.

Newsom, who visited San Diego and the network’s shelter last month, has called for the state to spend $20 million over three years to assist nonprofits and community organizations that serve asylum-seeking families. He also asked the legislature to provide $5 million in immediate funding.

The state Assembly approved that funding last month, and the state Senate approved it Monday and it is awaiting the governor’s for final approval.

Charles T. Clark writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune

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