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San Diego Area Mayors Organize Opposition To ‘Sanctuary State’ Bill

El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells speaks at a press conference on a bill to make Cali...

Photo by Guillermo Sevilla / KPBS

Above: El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells speaks at a press conference on a bill to make California a "sanctuary state," March 29, 2017.

A group of local elected officials from around San Diego County are organizing opposition to SB 54, a bill in Sacramento that would limit cooperation between local police and federal immigration authorities.

A group of local elected officials from around San Diego County on Wednesday announced a new group they say will organize opposition to a bill in Sacramento to limit cooperation between local police and federal immigration authorities.

El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells called a press conference to announce the formation of the group, "Mayors for Safe Cities." Members oppose SB 54, or the California Values Act, which is currently in the state legislature.

The bill has been described as making California a "sanctuary state." It would not prevent agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, from conducting deportation raids in California — but they would have to do so without the help of local or state police. They would also be banned from entering county jails to interview inmates suspected of living in the United States illegally.

Video by Guillermo Sevilla

Wells said this would allow more violent felons who could be deported back onto the streets, and that SB 54 was more about political showmanship than protecting innocent immigrants.

"We don't have the luxury of being able to make political points," Wells said. "We have a job, an obligation, to keep all the people that live in our cities safe."

Earlier this month, SB 54 was amended to require state prisons and county jails to notify the FBI 60 days before releasing an immigrant without legal status who has been convicted of a violent felony. The move was intended to attract votes from more moderate Democrats, but most conservatives still oppose the bill.

Among the other elected officials at the press conference were Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, Poway Mayor Steve Vaus and San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who is currently in Mexico City advocating for closer cross-border cooperation, has rejected the label of "sanctuary city" for San Diego, but supports some policies associated with the sanctuary city movement.

A group of protesters showed up at the press conference, which was held at the El Cajon Police Department headquarters, holding up signs reading "No Hate, No Fear" and "Immigrants Welcome."

One of the protesters was Elizabeth Senhen, a resident of San Diego. She said SB 54 would make Californians safer because immigrants living in the country illegally could approach their local police without fear of being being handed over to federal authorities for deportation.

"If people of color don't feel comfortable engaging with the police, then all of that breaks down," she said.

A vote in the state legislature on SB 54 is expected soon, and Wells said he expected it to pass both the Assembly and Senate. Governor Jerry Brown has not yet indicated whether he intends to sign the bill into law.

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