San Diego county’s Republican-dominated board of supervisors filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the Trump administration, claiming that policy changes in the way the federal government treats asylum seekers have strained the city’s finances and health services.
The Trump administration ended the so-called “Safe Release” program in October, which gave asylum seekers who had crossed the border assistance in reaching final destinations with family members and friends, the lawsuit noted.
“Now, large numbers of asylum seekers and accompanying family members are forced to remain in the County, without sufficient means to support themselves, because Defendants abruptly stopped providing asylum seekers with assistance in reaching their final destination,” it reads. “In response to Defendants’ sudden and unlawful change in policy ... the County has been forced to expend substantial funds and other resources to provide medical screening and care to the asylum seekers.”
The lawsuit, which was filed in District Court in Southern California, amounts to one more rebuke of the Trump administration’s harsh immigration policies and rhetoric by a border city.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was named in the suit along with leadership at agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and the Border Patrol. The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment.
The county board voted in February to sue the Trump administration over the program’s end. The vote was 4 to 1, with three of the board’s four Republicans joining one newly elected Democrat in supporting it.
In Nogales, Ariz., officials formally condemned the installation of six rows of razor wire the military installed on the U.S. side of existing border fence in the city, saying they feared it made residents less safe. In El Paso, county officials passed a resolution saying they were disillusioned by President Trump’s claims about the supposed lawlessness and dangers of the border.
In San Diego, the end of the Safe Release program meant the county had to find a place to shelter the 20 to 30 family units (60 to 80 parents and children) that have been released into the county each day since October 2018, according to the complaint. Since December, county health workers have been screening asylum seekers, many of whom have been staying at a shelter the county created out of an old courthouse it leased to a nonprofit. About 75 screenings are conducted by 14 county employees assigned to the shelter each day, according to the lawsuit.
“We have an obligation to take care of these families who have gone through so much — we can’t let them become victims of human trafficking or become homeless,” said Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, a newly elected Democrat whose district includes the shelter. “This is the federal government’s responsibility. This crisis is being created entirely by Donald Trump’s inhumane immigration policies.”
Fletcher said 11,000 legal asylum seekers have come through shelters in San Diego since November, with an average stay of 72 hours.
Before the Safe Release policy ended, “ICE would transport the traveling asylum seekers directly to the departure points for their prearranged mode of transportation, such bus stations, train stations, and airports, facilitating an orderly release process. ICE would also provide a minimal amount of food to asylum seekers for their journeys to their final destinations,” the lawsuit states.
Other supervisors did not return requests for comment.
The county has spent more than $1.3 million operating the downtown shelter, Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Dianne Jacob wrote on Twitter.
“The federal government’s negligent approach to those seeking asylum is taking a huge toll on San Diego County taxpayers,” she said.