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January 11, 2024 by JOE ORELLANA

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On January 3rd, the official Twitter account of San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond shared misinformation about Border Patrol’s open-air detention sites within the county. The Supervisor’s official Twitter account incorrectly claimed that taxpayers were funding aid at open-air detention sites in Jacumba. The accompanying videos are still up. 

These sites have been operational since early September. In October, a woman died in Border Patrol custody at one such site. Both the Jacumba and San Ysidro sites have been subject to racist harassment over the course of this crisis.

Desmond’s account would publish a retraction on January 4th, but not before activists protested his misinformation-peddling. 

A crowd forms a wide queue ahead of the camera. There are hundreds. To the right of the frame, the southern border wall is visible. It casts a shadow and tents are pitched against it. In the distance, one can see desert hills. Numerous tents dot the detention site.
An open-air detention site was fed by volunteers on December 14th, 2023.

It has been more than 120 days since Border Patrol started operating open-air detention sites in San Diego County. Numerous immigrant rights organizations have accused Border Patrol of “gross human rights violations”at these sites. While County Supervisor Jim Desmond touched on the abject conditions at these sites, he focused on the use of taxpayer dollars rather than the immense human suffering. 

Desmond’s team filmed him standing in and around open-air detention sites in Jacumba. One video shows Desmond exasperatedly rifling through an empty tent. His language in the video implicates San Diego County taxpayers, albeit less clearly than the pre-retraction caption. 

“There’s no one here. Yet, probably in the next day or so, there’ll be more migrants coming, inhabiting this, and then being processed through San Diego County, being paid for with San Diego tax dollars,” said Desmond.

A wide shot of the Board of County Supervisors chamber. On the far wall one can see large monitors, a gold streak up the middle of the wall, flags at the base of the wall, the county seal, and the text "county of san diego" near the ceiling. The Supervisors' seats are emptying in this photo, for a recess. Sheriff's deputies and county workers are moving throughout the frame. It's well lit, and the walls and ceiling are predominantly a white, fine stone.
The Board of County Supervisors deliberated over provisioning aid for asylum seekers within the county several times in 2023.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors awarded $3 million to a nonprofit assisting migrants released on humanitarian parole. Those funds were taken from an American Rescue Plan award, not county taxpayers. Regardless, this figure would have constituted a mere 0.037% of the county’s $8.17 billion budget.

The Board of Supervisors has not provided funds to the nonprofits and mutual aid workers who have served the region’s open-air detention sites over the three months. The dearth of assistance for asylum seekers motivated some mutual aid workers to dumpster-dive for tents—in fact, the numerous pink tents visible in Desmond’s video are the product of this very thrift. 

That resourcefulness is a response to Border Patrol’s destruction of migrants’ makeshift shelters.

Two figures sit near the camera at the bottom of the frame, one of which has the build of a small child. In the distance. a large line of hundreds of people runs through the middle of the frame. In the distance, one can see crags and a mountain. The sky is blue. The desert is wide open here.
Two asylum seekers watched a line form as volunteers distributed food to migrants at an open-air detention site on November 28th, 2023.

As of December, Border Patrol detained 42,000 migrants in San Diego. A local nonprofit stated that it provided services to 22,000 migrants in November. These services included food, water, help with travel arrangements, and even monetary aid toward temporary lodging or travel fare. KPBS reported that most people at the center at the time of their visit did not plan to stay in San Diego.

The crisis has gone on so long that some agencies are running out of funds and having to cut services. Some are no longer able to assist asylum seekers who arrive at local airports. Among other services, these groups guide asylum seekers to sponsors in other cities. 

Desmond’s team posted his open-air detention site videos to Instagram and Twitter. They elicited animosity from his base. 

“I believe in the military they call this a FOB. Forward Operating Base,” wrote one commenter.

“Those tents need IEDS,” wrote another. IED stands for ‘improvised explosive device.’

In the foreground, the heads of two individuals are in frame but very out of focus. Just to the left of the center of the frame sits Jim Desmond. He is an older man with some wrinkles and receding white hair. He has his hand beneath his chin, his eyes are stern, and he's looking outside the frame. The walls behind him are fine stone.
Jim Desmond listened to speakers at a Board of County Supervisors meeting on October 24th, 2023.

Desmond was previously mayor of San Marcos, CA from 2006-2014. During his time in office he was also a pilot for Delta Airlines. He’s currently the supervisor for District 5, San Diego’s northernmost district. Desmond is an ardent Trump supporter with a history of extremist views. He’s voiced climate change denial and COVID denial. In 2018, Trump thanked San Diego’s Board of Supervisors, including Desmond, for taking his side in a legal battle over California’s ‘sanctuary cities’ laws. Such laws, like California’s SB 54, shield undocumented immigrants by restricting what data local law enforcement can share with federal immigration enforcement.

Desmond and other local republicans called to shut down the southern Border following the October 7th attack on Israel. A CBP spokesperson told KPBS that the agency “has seen no indication of Hamas-directed foreign fighters seeking to make entry into the United States.”

Investigative journalist and LCRW contributor James Stout, who has been volunteering at the same open-air detention sites visited by Desmond, censured the County Supervisor on Twitter.

“This is a lie, the site is on private land and we or the migrants bought everything he’s listing. That tarp, I bought myself. And some of the waters from that brand,” wrote Stout. 

 James is squatting in the dirt next to a wooden beam rising straight up from the ground. There are tyvek sheets with the Lowe's logo on them on the floor, and on the sides of a partially built structure that extends out of frame. Stout is in a dark green cowboy hat, and he his handing a tool to someone who is reaching in from out of frame. Behind these subjects, there are numerous tents and a Border Patrol truck.
Investigative journalist James Stout was among volunteers who built shelter for asylum seekers.

“We + the several other orgs, mutual aid groups + volunteers have not received a single dollar from San Diego County for the humanitarian aid we’ve been providing + we literally have the receipts to prove it. Shame on you, Jim Desmond,” wrote Immigrant rights group Al Otro Lado. 

That agency’s executive director Erika Pinheiro wrote, “SD County has refused to send its own mobile medical units into the camps to prevent tragedy, even after several individuals have died, including a child who perished after emergency medical services took over an hour to respond.”

Stout interviewed Pinheiro about Desmond’s lies for Cool Zone Media.

Other San Diegans were similarly incensed by Desmond’s misinformation.

Protesters are large in the frame, with blue skies and the county administration building behind them. Protesters have fanned out receipts to show as many as possible in one hand. The three protesters have two signs among them. One reads, "why are you lying supervisor desmond?! we have receipts." The other reads, "US Tax dollars do not fund humanitarian aid," but it's partially obscured by another protester.
Protesters showed their receipts to media, disproving Desmond’s claims.

Humanitarian aid workers and concerned citizens gathered to address Desmond on January 4th. The group delivered a letter to the County Supervisor after a press conference in front of the County Administration building. 

The presser touched on the major issues of Desmond’s misinformation. Mutual aid group Free Shit Collective (FSC) brought receipts totaling roughly $60,000—funded entirely by private donations, many for mere dollars at a time. A representative from FSC noted that mutual aid workers have already had to contend with aggression from anti-migrant agitators. From individuals to fascist propaganda rags, the open-air detention sites aren’t safe for either asylum seekers nor the humanitarian aid workers.

Himmel and a representative of FSC are in the middle of the frame, visible from the shoulders-up. Himmel is facing the representative, and the representative is facing away from the camera. In the foreground, the tops of heads of media personnel and protesters are visible but out of focus.
Himmel engaged with protesters briefly. They heckled and shamed him.

After the presser, the group entered the County Administration building with their receipts and a letter for Supervisor Desmond. He wasn’t available, but Desmond’s communications director Miles Himmel received the letter on his behalf. 

The protesters briefly engaged with Himmel. He took the blame for the inaccurate caption, and tacitly admitted that he was with Desmond when the clips were filmed. Himmel also commended the mutual aid group on Desmond’s behalf. 

Soon after, Desmond’s official Twitter account posted a retraction—likely authored by Himmel. Despite paying for Twitter, Himmel has not edited the captions on the inaccurate post in question. He has, however, edited typos out of the retraction. 

After Desmond’s retraction, his account retweeted veiled justifications for his initial claim. KUSI contributor Esther Valdés Clayton quote-tweeted Desmond’s retraction, stating that the real issue with open-air detention sites is national security. Desmond’s account—again, likely Himmel—retweeted it. 

Himmel is visible in the center of the frame, gesticulating toward an FSC representative. They are obscured by figures in the foreground, who are out of focus but dominate the frame.
Himmel tried to draw common ground between Desmond’s office and the protesters, despite obvious differences.

Bizarrely, Himmel’s wife has seemingly messaged FSC. She appears to have told some of the only people providing humanitarian aid to asylum seekers held in the open desert to “get a job.”  

She has also taken to commenting on the mutual aid collective’s Instagram posts.

Desmond has since provided Epoch Times subsidiary California Insider with an interview on migration. 

Himmel has committed to posting. Since the retraction, he has retweeted Libs of Tik Tok’s attempt to foment hatred against a high school for sheltering migrants from an impending storm.

A view through the bars of the border fence at night. there are two children facing each other, one in the foreground in a heavy oversized yellow coat with their back to the camera and one further in the distance in a coat and beanie facing the camera. more fencing with palm trees can be seen on top of a grassy hill in the background, illuminated by unseen stadium lighting
Children are still being held in open-air detention sites throughout San Diego County.

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