SANTA ANA — Taking a noncommittal stance on an emotionally charged issue, county officials declined Friday to endorse the Orange County Grand Jury's controversial call for a nationwide, three-year ban on immigration to the United States.
In a written response to the grand jury's annual recommendations, county officials said that legal and illegal immigration policies fall outside their jurisdiction.
The report did not specifically address the question of an immigration ban, but it said that the Board of Supervisors "supports the enforcement of current immigration laws. The Board also supports efforts to revamp current federal immigration policies to better control via a humane and legal process those seeking to enter this country legally. . . . "
The report was prepared by the County Administrative Office and released Friday. The Board of Supervisors, which is mandated by state law to respond to the grand jury's recommendations, is expected to formally adopt the report at its meeting Tuesday.
The immigration issue has proven a hornet's nest for county officials since the grand jury issued a report three months ago that blamed illegal immigrants for a wide range of societal ills and called for a three-year ban on all immigration.
Minority activists denounced the grand jury report as insensitive and one-sided. In June, the League of United Latin American Citizens filed a complaint with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights over the report.
Tom Dalton, an Anaheim resident who headed the grand jury committee that proposed the ban, said the county's response shows officials are unwilling to tackle tough issues.
"Oh geez, they really are a gutsy group, aren't they?" Dalton said when told of the report's findings. "We always knew this was the stand they would take, but the thing I guess I'll never understand is--why? What we suggested was that they pressure the federal government to do something about (illegal immigration), that's all. It's a laugh."
But Arturo Montez, president of the Santa Ana chapter of LULAC and a frequent critic of the Board of Supervisors, commended the county for its stance.
"It sounds like they're saying, 'Hey, let's stay with the status quo,' and I think that's fine," he said. "I'm really surprised. In a sense, I'm glad they at least had the moral will not to fall under the pressure of those who would preach hate and discontent here in Orange County."
County Administrative Officer Ernie Schneider said county officials found themselves constrained in trying to answer the grand jury's recommendations.
"The fact of the matter is that we have very little jurisdiction over the concerns raised by the grand jury," Schneider said. "We are sympathetic to many of their concerns, but there are very few that we have the ability or the authority to actually implement ourselves . . . and we don't agree with everything they said--some of that stuff is just not doable."
County officials may be able to address a few of the grand jury's recommendations, however, Schneider said.
The report notes that county officials are working to determine whether they can expand possible deportation proceedings against illegal immigrants by turning over information on illegal immigrants who are arrested to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
And county officials also said in the report that they are doing more to collect data within government departments "to assess the fiscal impact of illegal immigrants."
But Montez said such studies must also take into account the financial gains that immigrants are bringing to Orange County. "If you're looking at how much water is coming out of the well, you need to look at how much is flowing in too," he said.