ACLU Applauds Community Response to Devastating Firestorm

The ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties applauds the massive outpouring of resources, volunteers, evacuation sites, and official and community responses to the tragic series of fires that are wreaking havoc on our region.

We especially take note of the outstanding work of firefighters, rescue workers, law enforcement officers, other first responders, and of course the outpouring of community volunteers.

The ACLU is concerned for the safety of those forced to flee their homes with little but the clothes on their backs. We call on all parties responding to victims of these fires to make sure that particularly vulnerable populations are sent a strong message that all those in need should seek shelter, resources and assistance to stay safe, fed, and protected from the elements. The ACLU is monitoring various situations involving prisoners, detainees, farmworkers, Latinos, and immigrants. There have been some reports of troubling incidents of racial profiling.

It has been reported that at least one dozen evacuees at Qualcomm Stadium were detained by San Diego police officers who did not charge any of the individuals, but instead turned them over to U.S. Border Patrol after inquiring into their immigration status, apparently in violation of usual San Diego Police Department policy.

As a result of this incident, we were told, at least 25 evacuees who were in
need of shelter and resources fled Qualcomm Stadium for fear of further immigration enforcement activities.

The ACLU is concerned that allowing immigration enforcement activities to take place at humanitarian evacuation sites could deprive people of emergency services they need, even if that is not the intended result. The message needs to be sent loud and clear that the only concern now is the safety of all members of the community. Immigrants cannot be left with the impression that seeking shelter comes with the risk that they or their family members could be handed over to immigration authorities. It would be particularly unreasonable and heartless to demand papers from people who are fleeing the fires, often leaving all their worldly possessions behind. We think this could have a devastating effect and keep many from seeking vital emergency services.

We call on the city and police to honor police department policies designed to preserve community trust in law enforcement, especially in the midst of a humanitarian crisis.

We know that city and law enforcement officials share our concerns that all those in need stay safe and receive all the resources and protection that we can offer them during the firestorm. As far as we are aware, the incident described above is an isolated one. Our Executive Director, Kevin Keenan, spoke with San Diego Chief of Police, William Lansdowne, who said he would issue a statement tonight saying that the San Diego Police Department is not interested in enforcing immigration laws and that evacuees should feel secure in seeking refuge at all evacuation centers, including Qualcomm Stadium.