U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has highlighted the San Diego suburb of Escondido to illustrate how jurisdictions that limit cooperation with immigration authorities jeopardize public safety.
Speaking at a news conference Friday along a border fence with Mexico, Sessions offered no evidence that “sanctuary jurisdictions” or immigrants are responsible. And he failed to mention that the federal government has held up Escondido as a model for cooperation with immigration authorities.
SESSIONS: “As you know too well here, Escondido’s gang violence has jumped recently between two violent gangs warring for turf — more shootings, more guns, more terrorized neighborhoods. Sanctuary jurisdictions have put known gang members back on the streets to join the Westside gang in Escondido.”
THE FACTS: Since May 2010, the city has had an extraordinarily close relationship with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, giving ICE officers desk space at police headquarters and working in tandem with them on everything from traffic stops to gang sweeps to remove people who have been previously deported and have criminal records. Critics say the unusual relationship has unnerved immigrants but supporters say it has improved public safety in the city of 150,000. In 2012, ICE bestowed Escondido with a “Partnerships for Public Safety” award.
Violent crime has held fairly steady in recent years, dropping 5 percent during the first half of 2016 compared to the same period last year, according to the FBI’s latest figures. When asked about Sessions’ characterization, Police Chief Craig Carter said, “We had nothing I’m seeing as a spike or increase.”
The city was rocked by the fatal shooting of a 55-year-old woman who was walking home from church March 7 when she was struck by bullets that police say was intended for a rival gang member, but both suspects are U.S. citizens.
Some officials have said gang violence has increased but haven’t linked it to immigrants. An Escondido police detective told The San Diego Union-Tribune that he suspects an increase in guns found on gang members arises from changes in state laws, including efforts to reduce the prison population.
When asked about Sessions’ statement that sanctuary jurisdictions have put gang members on Escondido’s streets, Carter said, “I just don’t know what that is about at all.” The police chief said he planned to ask the Justice Department to clarify the attorney general’s remarks.