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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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.