Is Immigration Enforcement A Local Issue?

By Ruxandra Guidi
December 07, 2011

SAN DIEGO -- A debate in San Diego about the merits of state and federal control over immigration enforcement brought together activists, scholars, and former law enforcement officials this week.

One of the panelists, Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, referred to immigration enforcement as "a top priority issue" for his city with a population of 150,000, a majority of which is Latino.

"I believe illegal immigrants should have human rights. If somebody is sick, we should treat them; if somebody is hungry, we should feed them," Abed said. "Civil rights, that is a different story. Civil rights is a privilege that citizenship should earn and be a part of the political process."

Immigrants rights are routinely violated in Escondido, according to Abed's critics, which include retired assistant sheriff Bill Flores.

Photo by Ruxandra Guidi
An audience member questions panelists at the University of San Diego discussion on immigration enforcement.

By partnering with federal immigration agents, and arresting unlicensed drivers, police in Escondido have been instrumental in deporting 600 immigrants in the last two years.

This type of cooperation between law enforcement is a new phenomenon, according to Pete Nuñez, a former United States Attorney for the Southern District of California.

"Every area of law enforcement that I was ever involved with, involved cooperation between state, local and federal agencies," Nuñez said. "The one exception, which has developed in the last 20 years, is immigration enforcement."

Nuñez argued that as immigration reform gets nowhere in Washington, we are likely to see more cities like Escondido - and states like Arizona - willing to challenge the limits of federal immigration laws.