Aug. 15 2012 08:27 AM

Reporters must press mayoral candidate for specifics on immigration enforcement

Carl DeMaio
Photo by David Rolland

The next phase in the battle for the Mayor’s office in San Diego unofficially started last Thursday evening at the Institute of the Americas, where candidates Bob Filner and Carl DeMaio squared off over the relationship between San Diego and Mexico. DeMaio won’t answer any questions posed by CityBeat, so we hope other reporters will press him on something he said both that night and before the primary election in June, because it might sway some otherwise rational people who could be thinking of voting for him.

DeMaio said Thursday that although he doesn’t favor racial profiling (what a relief!), he wants the San Diego Police Department to use federal immigration laws to help get criminals off the streets. It was a brief comment that mirrored what he’d said at greater length during a forum before the June election:

“I share Bonnie’s [Dumanis] view that we will not have a Sanctuary City policy in the city of San Diego when I’m mayor. … We will enforce our laws. If someone breaks the law and they’re not here legally, then I believe it’s important for our police department to hand them off to federal authorities so that the law can be enforced.

“What I hear from the Latino community in San Diego is that ‘You’re letting these people who are breaking the law off and reintroducing them into my neighborhood. I’m a law-abiding U.S. citizen. I’m a legal immigrant. And you’ve let these people off the hook and reintroduced them into my neighborhood, where they continue to cause trouble.’ “So, as mayor, I’m going to make sure that our police department fully and faithfully enforces our local laws and helps, as a partner, as a facilitator, the federal government fulfill its role, that it’s not performing currently, to secure our border.”

What’s DeMaio saying? Is he merely saying that if an officer arrests someone who’s found to be in the country illegally, the police will hand that person over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)? If so, that would be wasteful and unnecessary. Anyone who’s arrested and sent to the county jail already gets screened for resident status, and compelling city cops to screen and possibly transport arrestees would further burden a department that’s already short on resources. Does DeMaio even know whether the department has that kind of immediate screening capability?

Or is DeMaio proposing that cops more proactively rid San Diego of undocumented immigrants? If an officer gets a call about a street vender pushing a food cart down the street without a license, will he have to check that man’s residence status and haul him over to an ICE facility for deportation if he’s determined to be here illegally? What then becomes of the man’s family when he’s not able to support them? Or how about the domestic-disturbance calls that police get all the time? If the couple arguing loudly in the apartment next door are here illegally, do they get hauled off? What about their legal-resident kids?

Current department policy bars officers from handing undocumented immigrants over to federal authorities when responding to a family disturbance, unless there’s reasonable suspicion that a serious crime’s been committed. Same goes for traffic stops or other misdemeanors that don’t require booking into the jail. Same goes for people who are crime victims or witnesses, or people seeking medical treatment. Same goes for people in migrant camps.

DeMaio needs to be asked if he plans to change these policies.

As we understand it, the San Diego Police Department’s policies are aimed, at least in theory, at fostering trust in ethnic communities. The police want people to come forward about crimes being committed in their neighborhoods without fear of deportation. DeMaio’s positions on immigration could wipe away any gains made when it comes to relations in these communities and set community policing back years, if not decades.

People who are considering voting for DeMaio because they believe that he has the taxpayer’s best interest at heart need to understand that being mayor means much more than just fighting with labor unions. Public safety is among those other things. DeMaio famously wants San Diego to be “Wisconsin of the West” when it comes to stripping public workers of salary and benefits, consequences be damned.

Does he also want San Diego to be Arizona of the Coast when it comes to immigration enforcement, no matter the consequences for families, communities, neighborhoods and citywide race relations?

DeMaio must answer these questions. 

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