Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, pictured at a 2016 forum, told President Donald Trump at a meeting at the White House that sanctuary policies do not encourage undocumented immigrants to report crimes. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

During his meeting with President Donald Trump Wednesday, Escondido Mayor Sam Abed wanted the president to know one thing: The most common defense of so-called sanctuary policies is fiction.

“This narrative that sanctuary city will allow more immigrants to report crime is fake news, Mr. President,” Abed said.

If Abed is right, it would mean current and former leaders of San Diego law enforcement are peddling fake news. Same goes for a UC San Diego professor who studies the issue closely.

Just after being named the new SDPD chief, Dave Nisleit, said on the Voice of San Diego podcast that it’s long been SPDP policy not to inquire about immigration status, to ensure officers don’t discourage victims from reporting crimes.

“When we contact someone, we do not ask immigration status,” Nisleit said. “That is not going to change under me. I want people to feel very comfortable calling the San Diego Police Department if they’re a victim of a crime, irregardless of their status in this country.”

His predecessor, Shelley Zimmerman, made a similar statement to the Union-Tribune in 2016: “The San Diego Police Department does not check the immigration status of victims and witnesses of crimes to encourage all people to come forward, confident in the knowledge their report will be investigated thoroughly and professionally,” she said.

And Sheriff Bill Gore earlier this year offered a similar defense of his department’s policies, in an interview with VOSD’s Maya Srikrishnan, after California passed SB 54, the so-called sanctuary state law that the Trump administration is suing to invalidate.

“I don’t want my deputies and officers to enforce immigration law,” Gore said. “I want people in the county, be they undocumented or not, to feel comfortable reporting crimes. There are 200,000 to 300,000 undocumented people in the county. If they are scared to cooperate with law enforcement and report crimes, that makes us all less safe.”

Tom Wong, a UCSD professor who researches this very issue, sides with the local law enforcement leaders, too. He sent us this statement Thursday in response to Abed’s comment:

“For decades, local law enforcement executives across the country have pushed against becoming entangled in the work of federal immigration enforcement. For example, in 2006, the immigration committee of the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA), a professional association that includes many of the largest law enforcement agencies in the U.S., concluded: ‘Immigration enforcement by local police would likely negatively effect and undermine the level of trust and cooperation between local police and immigrant communities. If the undocumented immigrant’s primary concern is that they will be deported or subjected to an immigration status investigation, then they will not come forward and provide the needed assistance and cooperation.’ My own work confirms this, as I find that undocumented immigrants in San Diego County are 61 percent less likely to report crimes they witnessed to the police if the San Diego Police Department and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department were working together with ICE.”

I'm Andrew Keatts, a managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at

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