Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Injustice

San Diego Police Issues New Policy On Handling People Living In The US Illegally

The San Diego Police Department headquarters is shown in this updated photo.

Credit: Milan Kovacevic

Above: The San Diego Police Department headquarters is shown in this updated photo.

The San Diego Police Department recently released an updated policy on how officers should handle people living in the U.S. illegally that reflects California's new "sanctuary state law," SB 54, that went into effect this year.

RELATED: California Governor Signs 'Sanctuary State' Bill

San Diego's policy has new revisions that specifically state, "Officers shall not inquire into an individual’s immigration status," "Officers are prohibited from transporting detained undocumented persons to a police facility for the sole purpose of releasing them to DHS/Border Patrol" and "If, after concluding the investigation, officers determine that the person is not involved in criminal activity, the person shall be released regardless of immigration status."

It also includes a long list of instances when people living in the U.S. illegally can be transferred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, which were not included in the old policy.

The policy stipulates that a person living in the U.S. illegally can be handed over to ICE when "he or she has been convicted of committing, attempting to commit, or conspiracy to commit, a serious or violent felony," and then goes on to list those felonies, including first-degree burglary, robbery, arson, carjacking, or discharge of a firearm from a vehicle.

It adds that they can be sent to ICE if they have been convicted for certain misdemeanors, and then lists those misdemeanors, including certain types of assault, battery and unlawful possession of a firearm, and "driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but only for a conviction that is a felony."

The exceptions for when someone can be transferred to ICE are written into SB 54, which is meant to limit local law enforcement agencies' cooperation with federal immigration authorities. It restricts police departments and other law enforcement agencies from cooperating with ICE and notifying ICE when a person living in the U.S. illegally is going to be released from custody.

But the police department policies in San Francisco and Los Angeles are much shorter, and don't contain the long lists of exceptions that San Diego's policy does.

Pedro Rios, the director of the organization American Friends Service Committee, said he met with the San Diego Police Department as they drafted their new policy, and is worried about the optics of the long list of exceptions.

"It gives the impression police officers are able to just transfer someone to customs enforcement," he said. "I don't know if that means police officers in the field would feel more empowered to call border patrol if they apprehend someone committing some of these crimes, but it gives the impression that they would have that authority."

He said he expressed his concern to police officials about including the specific list of crimes and "their response was they felt they needed to include them, they didn't have more detail than that."

Rios said it's somewhat strange that the San Diego Police Department added this list of when police officers can hand someone over to ICE, because that almost never happens. Instead, people are booked into custody in the county jail system, which is overseen by the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for ICE, confirmed this, saying that it is up to the Sheriff's Department to decide whether to turn someone over, not the police department. She added that other cities outside San Diego may have different arrangements with ICE.

A spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Department said their policy on people living in the U.S. illegally is currently being revised to reflect the changes called for in SB 54, but she does not know when it will be done.

RELATED: San Diego Sheriff Gore Discusses Impact Of New ‘Sanctuary State’ Law

The San Diego Police Department wouldn't grant an interview for this story, but answered questions about the new policy by email. When asked why the new policy was so specific, Lt. Brent Williams, a spokesman for the department, answered simply, "Senate Bill 54."

Ginger Jacobs, an immigration lawyer at Jacobs & Schlesinger LLP, said she appreciates other parts of the new San Diego Police Department policy, including its explicit statement that "members shall not stop, question, or detain any individual solely because of the individual’s national origin, foreign appearance, inability to speak English, or immigration status."

"It's nice how they solidify the nondiscrimination, and are really explicit that you can't stop people because of the language they're speaking," she said.

The San Diego Police Department recently released an updated policy on how officers should handle people living in the U.S. illegally that reflects California's new "sanctuary state law" SB 54 that went into effect this year.


San Diego News Now podcast branding

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.

  • Need help keeping up with the news that matters most? Get the day's top news — ranging from local to international — straight to your inbox each weekday morning.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Photo of Claire Trageser

Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.