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Border & Immigration

San Diego Law Enforcement Awaits Clarity On Trump's Immigration Order

Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly speaks at a news conference as vehicles enter San Diego from Tijuana at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, Feb. 10, 2017.
Denis Poroy / Associated Press
Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly speaks at a news conference as vehicles enter San Diego from Tijuana at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, Feb. 10, 2017.

San Diego law enforcement is bracing for how the federal government might enforce President Trump’s order denying funds to sanctuary cities. A visit from the Department of Homeland Security Secretary did little to clear things up.

San Diego Law Enforcement Awaits Clarity On Trump's Immigration Order
San Diego law enforcement is bracing for how the federal government might enforce President Trump’s order denying funds to sanctuary cities. A visit from the Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, did little to clear things up.

During a visit to San Diego last Friday, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly tried to assure local law enforcement officials that his agency wanted to work with them, even if local politicians did not agree with the president’s policies on immigration.

“I’m not here to help. I’m here to partner,” said Kelly, during a meeting with local law enforcement at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

US Homeland Security Secretary Talks to San Diego Police

San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman asked Kelly to define sanctuary cities.

“Really, no one has defined that,” Zimmerman said. “So I asked the question so we can know what the definition is.”

By the broadest definition, all of California could be considered a sanctuary community. Under California’s TRUST Act, state and local law enforcement can’t hold non-felons solely for immigration officials. San Diego County Sheriff William Gore worries about whether lawmakers in Sacramento will widen those restrictions. At stake is a potential loss of federal funding.

San Diego County Sheriff William Gore sits at his desk while he talks about the ways his department cooperates with federal immigration authorities, Feb. 14, 2017.
Kris Arciaga
San Diego County Sheriff William Gore sits at his desk while he talks about the ways his department cooperates with federal immigration authorities, Feb. 14, 2017.

“Anytime you’re talking about the loss of federal funds it’s a concern,” Gore said. “Personally, I don’t see San Diego County as a sanctuary county but that’s pretty poorly defined right now.”

The Sheriff’s Department receives about $30 million in federal funding, mainly from Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. It’s a smaller share in the city, where all federal funding makes up less than 1 percent of San Diego’s budget.

Local police do work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Each county jail has an ICE officer on-site. Gore doesn’t want his deputies to enforce immigration law, fearing the community will stop working with his officers.

Talking with law enforcement officials on Friday, Kelly made it clear that the Trump administration is still trying to figure out how to enforce the executive order barring federal funding from sanctuary cities. On the one hand, Kelly doesn’t want to give enforcement grants to departments which aren’t cooperating with ICE.

“On the other hand, if we were still collaborating on counter terrorism, or information sharing to get at counter-terrorism, that might be a different story,” Kelly said Friday.

The text of the order requires Kelly and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to come up with the actual policy. Kelly said meeting with Sessions was on his agenda when he returned to Washington.