SAN DIEGO — “Anybody here read the bill?” asked retired undersheriff Jay La Suer referring to Arizona’s recently enacted immigration law during a debate May 21 at Balboa Park.
Only three people out of the hundred or so in attendance raised their hands.
La Suer, as well as the two other candidates running for San Diego Sheriff — Jim Duffy and Sheriff Bill Gore, the appointed incumbent — weighed in on their feelings about the Arizona law, Senate Bill 1070, and San Diego County’s role in tackling border-related crimes at a lunch time forum sponsored by the Catfish Club in preparation for the June 8 election.
“I support the bill; I think it’s good law,” said La Suer urging the audience to read the bill for themselves and not let the media dictate their view. The former state assemblyman said he believed the law was well written and clearly states that it “strictly” prohibits racial profiling.
In April, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer passed the law saying she was compelled to do so because of the federal government’s inability to craft a comprehensive immigration policy. Following a probable cause stop, for example, not wearing a seat belt, the law allows Arizona law enforcement agencies to arrest a person if they can’t verify their U.S. citizenship. Despite strong support in Arizona, nationwide protests and lawsuits have ensued.
Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of civil rights groups filed a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court challenging the law as unconstitutional, according to a press release issued by the ACLU. The coalition charged that the law encourages racial profiling, interferes with federal law and violates the first amendment.
Duffy, the son of former Sheriff John Duffy, said he initially disagreed with the Arizona law but changed his thoughts on the bill after reading it. “It’s no different really then the policy we have today and had for years in the sheriff’s department,” the 27-year law enforcement veteran said.
The main difference Duffy said is that San Diego sheriff’s deputies are not authorized to arrest or place immigration holds on a person who can’t verify their U.S. citizenship.
Admittedly, Duffy said his objective is to keep people out of San Diego County who are committing crimes regardless of whether they are in the country illegally, and that a law such as the one in Arizona affords law enforcement one more instrument to accomplish that goal.
“I don’t want my deputies profiling people,” said Duffy, a former president of the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association of San Diego County. “I don’t want them out in the community looking for illegal immigration, but I do want to make sure that when we come across someone committing a crime and they go inside of our jails that we are using all the tools available to us to deal with that problem.”
Gore rebutted Duffy’s belief that the two states’ laws were similar.
“We can detain someone and call border patrol, but my deputy sheriffs don’t have the training to be immigration officers or border patrol officers so they are not going to be arresting anybody out there,” Gore said.
The incumbent said he didn’t support the bill telling the audience he believed a cooperative approach with federal agencies was the appropriate way to handle border crimes in San Diego County.
Gore, who spent 32 years with the FBI, said he believed the sheriff’s department’s use of immigration officers in the county’s jail to screen all incoming inmates is a great example of the two agencies working hand in hand.
“Let them do their job in our facilities, and if these people are in the country illegally put an immigration hold on them,” Gore said.