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Roundtable: Government Shutdown Aggravates Border Chaos

January 4, 2019 1:23 p.m.


GUESTS:

Alison St John, KPBS News

Jean Guerrero, KPBS News

Jeff Light, San Diego Union-Tribune

Greg Moran, San Diego Union Tribune

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Related Story: Roundtable: Government Shutdown Aggravates Border Chaos

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Tensions continue on the border with U.S. agents firing tear gas at asylum seekers in Mexico.

Concerns mount over storage of nuclear waste canisters at San Onofre. A cyber attack temporarily crippled newspaper deliveries and some defendants hope to avoid jail by claiming mental illness. I Mark Sauer the PBS roundtable starts now.

Welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories on Merc's our joining me at the KBB s roundtable today a watchdog reporter Greg Moran of the San Diego Union Tribune PBS border reporter Jean Guerrero. Jeff lay publisher and editor in chief of the Union Tribune and Allison St. John who covers North County for PBS. Border tensions escalated in the early hours of New Year's Day when a group of asylum seekers from Central America attempted to breach a border fence. U.S. authorities responded by firing tear gas into Mexico. And Jeanne there's a big dispute in this story between with the Border Patrol says happened and journalists who were there right.

That's right. So Homeland Security has described these people a hundred and fifty migrants as a violent mob. The president President chompers said that they charged the border. CBP has said that they fired the tear gas in response to rocks being thrown. But all of the witnesses who I spoke to who were on the scene journalists activists tell me that the group was silently waiting next to the border wall and that nothing was thrown into the United States until after the first canister came across the border. And so someone one person mentioned to me that they saw one person throw a rock after the tear gas was fired.

One person saw someone throw a smoke canister back across the border. But everyone who is there has told me that that's that that the violence was a result of the tear gas being thrown.

Well let's let let's lay this out in the stark contrast here and we've we've got a visual on this and this is homeland security once again. We've had a violent mob and migrants attempt to enter the United States illegally by attacking her agents with projectiles or personal use minimum force necessary to defend themselves. And here's Ricky moroseness of the border angels their take on events last night. Border Patrol again tear gas and shot rubber bullets at migrants including women children after women children were shot at some migrants threw rocks as you say.

Misrepresentation of the facts. Violence and death is unacceptable and criminal. You were talking to some photographers as you said who were actually there covering the event.

Yeah. And you know I've tried following up with CBP and DHS a couple of times and I've been told that public affairs is furloughed as a result of the government shutdown so I'm not able to have any of my questions answered as to what actually happened. The government says that nobody was hurt and that they use the minimum force necessary. But I spoke to a journalist who as she was running away from the tear gas she was hit in the leg with some kind of pellet and it left a large bruise. The journalists who were there say that that women and children.

Pretty much everyone who was there was affected by the tear gas.

That the Border Patrol statement suggested that they just threw the tear gas at the people who were throwing rocks not of the people trying to cross the border. But I mean that's not something you can contain that it spreads.

That's right. And the people I spoke to who were there say that the process was directly into the area where all of the migrants were were and so most people were affected.

You know these folks were trying to trying to get to U.S. soil right and then the under our law and international law and treaties. They can claim asylum and get into the process to see if they have a valid claim that right.

Yeah. So I'm not totally sure what percentage of the group was hoping to ask for asylum but from the people who were there they say that the intention of the majority of the group was to ask for asylum support to jump the fence and then present themselves immediately to authorities and ask for asylum. One of the interesting things is that there were Antifa protests at an empty for activists among. They were on the scene as well. So antifascists left wing extreme groups and the journalists who I spoke to who saw them.

They say that they saw them actually helping these people cross illegally you know helping children over the fence. And I spoke to the activists themselves. And they say they didn't want to comment. They didn't want to confirm or deny whether or not they were helping people cross illegally what they did say is that they were there about 11 protesters including anti and they were supposedly there to document human rights abuses and to administer medical aid. So they were helping with the tear gas. They had brought milk with magnesia to help get rid of some of those effects.

Now you referenced the border shutdown of course this is not happening in a vacuum. We've got President Trump insisting on his wall in the funding the five plus billion for that the Democrats in taking over the House are certainly not willing at this point to do that. Meanwhile it's affecting agents and those who work the border Homeland Security and immigration judges and all sorts of folks directly involved here. The irony seems lost on some people.

Yeah it's fortunate that you know this major incident that just occurred at our border I'm not able to get any answers to my questions because public affairs is allegedly furloughed. But then at the same time you see border patrol and CBP Twitter accounts being regularly updated. So you wonder OK well who is working and why are my questions are being answered.

Chris we're getting reaction over the temperature is in Mexico to this kind of event when they fired the tear gas and some of them landed in Mexico but just within you know we're so focused on what's coming towards us and kind of curious what the people in Tijuana or the Mexican government has been saying either about the border patrol tactics or the actions of the caravan members.

Well they want an investigation. The Mexican government has asked for an investigation into the tear gas incident to find out exactly what happened and whether it was a fair use of force and whether the United States to do that or they're going to do that. They want the you know it looks like the countries can work together to get to the bottom of what happened there. But there are still about 3000 people waiting to get into the United States at various shelters. And one of the difficulties is that while most of these people want to ask for asylum they're getting a lot of contradictory information about how the best way to do that is.

There's a group. I mean I mentioned the ante for people who are who were there to try to help these people cross allegedly. There's also a group called BAM that is disseminating flyers telling people don't put your names on the wait list to ask for asylum. You should have crossed the border illegally. That is the best way to get asylum. And so there are other groups advocacy organizations that are trying to counter that and tell them No no no you should do it the right way.

It's interesting that's one of the conflict points right. In addition to that the kind of the tear gas you're crossing would not this idea about where and how you apply for asylum right. The top administration says you have to go to the ports of entry. You have to get them out and do it in and out of borders and people say no you just cross and you throw your hands up and say asylum and it's like the state of it just decide what the proper way to do that well we're out of time in this segment but we'll be looking forward to more reporting on this obviously it's a fluid and chaotic situation and much more to come in this new year on that.

Well work may resume this month bearing canisters of nuclear waste at sea over the seaside plant 50 miles north of downtown San Diego was shut down in 2013 after a replacement steam generators failed. The critical challenge remaining what to do with the remaining nuclear nuclear waste and Ellson the plant has been of course to bury it on site. But tell us about the near miss last summer here which is good people are Thumbkins.

That was the event that really brought it to the public's attention. But I think it's sort of a series of mishaps that the NRC is now investigating but basically a whistleblower came forward at one of the community engagement panel meetings which are run by Edison and said that one of the canisters which are a 17 foot tall and 50 more than 50 pounds in weight that they tuns Strother I beg your pardon that one of them has gotten stuck as it was being put inside of the concrete container at the top. And so it was almost an hour sort of dangling they took away all the supports because they thought it had gone down in because they didn't have spotters that were really visually checking that it had gone in and it hung there without any support for about an hour.

So the fear was could it have fallen 17 feet and if so what would have happened to the contents the radioactive spent fuel.

So no sensors no way to really know once it's in that cylinder what's going on.

No Hulta International which has designed it says look this is an inert you know situation you don't need sensors inside at some point it's aging management. We will design something that will be able to crawl down inside a little half inch clearance between the canister and its container and figure out whether the canister is cracked but at the moment there is no sensors designed into the containers. In your story notes it's not just in a nuclear activists who are ringing the alarm bells right now it's people who think that's interesting because you know there are many people who argue that nuclear power is the only way we can avoid the effects of climate change.

And I think that's a valid question. So whether you support nuclear power or not I think there's still an issue that we need to be very vigilant about what is going on at San Ofri because you know financially it does make sense for the company they want to go on and start generating new energy somewhere else. They don't want to be spending a lot of money on storing nuclear waste. They thought that the government would take responsibility for it and that hasn't turned out to be the case. So is there some kind of short changing going on in this very delicate and potentially dangerous situation.

As I said one of the folks who's who's supportive generally of nuclear retired admiral Lynn herring former head of the Navy at San Diego because we've got a clip from you that I'm an advocate for nuclear energy or not.

I'm not a believer that it needs to disappear. But the proper handling of the material is what we are talking about here. The decommissioning of the songs plant. Involves the handling and the storage of nuclear waste. In a fashion that is for all practical purposes not being done safely for us.

So what does it mean specifically about that. I mean they don't know as we've said what when it's going down there if it's bumping getting gouged.

Yes he's actually you know paying attention to the results of their special investigation into this event which suggests that there was a very lacking in oversight. There were procedures that were not really properly put in place they'd already had some near accidents earlier and nothing had been done to correct it. The new people who were actually operating the equipment that day were not told about the potential problems of getting hung up on the ring. There's just a sense that there wasn't good procedures or oversight of management of this. It was Edison say about all the well Edison is saying that they actually agree with the NRC a special report.

So they're saying we are going to correct all this. This is something that you know we can correct. So trust us we will be able to do it right in the future. I think there is a bit of a history of Edison showing that they may not be able to be trusted or at least that you have to keep a close eye on it on what they're doing because we saw what happened with the steam generators that we had.

If you look at the leaves of the plant were shut in the first place.

I have to say that there's something kind of Rube Goldberg ish it sounds like about this whole thing. It is this kind of a standard industry practice that this is how you put it in this canister and it fit it down and then hope everything goes OK.

I mean well can we there are other there. That's how they identify plants around the country that are doing the same thing. This is an established model and you know the canisters are very thin. They're less than half an inch thick. You might argue and many people do that they should be. But the United States has designed it that way. Those regulations. I think the key thing is that things have changed since the design was made. We don't have Yucca Mountain anymore. And they designed it so that you could take everything to Yucca Mountain and everything would be standardized they'd all be in these little canisters and the same large but thin so that it would be standardized.

And so Edison was doing what they were supposed to do. The situation has changed we no longer have Yucca Mountain a couple of seconds left.

What happens if we get a leak in one of these.

Well there's different accounts of that and that's actually the next thing I'm going to work on is you know what if because you could generate a lot of fear but I think we need to understand a little bit more what the risks actually are. Could it affect you know just a minor leak that could affect maybe Interstate 5 and the railway line the syndrome those rivers or you know 50 miles downtown San Diego is affected. So the implications are do are not pleasant to contemplate.

If a major event were to happen it will look for a follow up. Well we'll move on. Many of us are expecting our daily newspapers to be delivered last Saturday morning were disappointed. The San Diego Union Tribune Los Angeles Times several other big papers suffered a cyber attack that resulted in the biggest disruption of newspaper production and printing in decades. In just start there with what happened why did so many of us muster papers.

Yeah the newspaper even though it's a very old analog product the production process of delivering your newspaper or producing newspaper is like everything in life now highly computerized. So the company that we use to do our newspaper production are former owner Tribune Publishing runs a production system that serves newspapers from the East Coast to here. I think 12 papers in all including us and the L.A. Times and those production systems were attacked by a mail where virus that locked us out of our systems. A week ago today. And yeah I think it's the first time so many papers were not delivered in San Diego at least since World War 2.

I mean this is a big question. Why did they do it. Who is it worth it.

Well I'm not super privy to the investigation because the tech is really on. Tribune Publishing or previous owners. It's a publicly traded company so they're constrained in a lot of ways about their ability to communicate. But it looks like it was what is known as a right virus. We've reported that there stories and I think enough people have seen their corrupted files actually to see the file extensions and know what it has. But to actually knowing who that is the whole point of this is that you're not to know right.

The little bit that is out there from the consultants who look at these kinds of things it looks like it's a successor to a North Korean virus called the Hermes virus the came out a year ago 2017. This riot virus has first seen just this summer I think in August. They were making a lot of money on it just in the first few weeks some of the accounts had about six hundred thousand dollars in ransom paid.

So that's the motive and some indication on that.

It's a whole profession. Right on one make some money of this. I don't think so. No although the Tribune Publishing response is not public but looking at how the company has responded and the progress that we've made against the difficulty. No it doesn't look like you know they've folded over the.

So the model really looks like ransom. There was a net going after delivery. The Free Press and delivering the news product are some reason.

I mean you could have been an auto parts distributor or agree. BLOCK Yeah Greg and I were just talking about this. I don't really take this as an attack on the press and we've seen many of those this year so much as an attack on a big company with time sensitive demands in their business and the wherewithal to pay. I think that would be more the model of what they're going after.

So that so that fit now. What the. You talked about the viewers and I understand you have the Tribune Company is going to be secretive about this but obviously you're in a battle here you've got a whole major security system going on. But why would you determine most papers didn't get out at all. Explain that a little bit that had something to do with where the Justise run is in the water.

I think a little bit the luck of the draw a little bit of the logistics because we're far from our printing facility in L.A.. But but some of it I think it's just the randomness of where the virus got to. I know that the South Florida papers were affected similar to a similar scope of as our own papers in Chicago and New York got out L.A. a little bit in between. But since we are printed in L.A. We've got a long drive and people through the night were working with the I'd say heroically to try to get the paper out that paper for Saturday the Saturday distributions about 10000 households.

It's a lot of households when you really start looking at the detail. It's not like the Sunday paper but it's right.

So the logistics of getting that delivered are pretty extensive. And that paper is supposed to go on the press at about 10:00 p.m. and be finished printing before 1 and those papers are supposed to be getting here at 2:00 3:00 in the morning at 730 in the morning. I was still getting texts. OK. We've got it running. So so so people with like incredible determination I think continued on working through the night even when it became apparent that the paper's not going to get delivered. And yet the and the note I got from the press room in the morning sad.

We have continued our tradition of publishing every day. And after that the news is less good. Like nobody is going to get it delivered and subscribers are not going to have to pay obviously for Saturday's paper but I think it really showed the character of the people and the effort that they put in. I mean imagine on the holiday weekend the numbers of people who did respond to the crisis and come in on their vacations on a holiday and worked through the night in this futile effort of us. It's pretty inspiring.

Well we'll see what happens going forward but we're all hopeful that you get back in the counter battle and I will say not completely resolved although largely resolved our little scorecard is mostly green computer systems.

Now there's a couple of yellow still out there so the company seems to have done a good job responding.

Well we're going to move on. A new state law allows certain criminal defendants with mental illness to be diverted from jail and treatment. It's controversial. So far it's been granted sparingly especially in San Diego. The great story opens with the police chief chase in Carlsbad.

Stay with the details because the use that's because it was it was one of the few successful cases under this law this is a fellow who you know was tipped to be pulled over by the police in Carlsbad he took off a brief chase ensued of cannoned road and they caught him and arrested him and charged him with evading police officers kind of. You know this happens with some frequency and straightforward. Pretty much. And then when he went to court to answer these charges his lawyer asked for relief under this new law this mental health diversion law.

The argument was he has has a mental illness. I think it's fair to call this longtime schizophrenia a very lengthy record of psychiatric history and treatment that that was a contributing factor to why he fled the police and why he's being pulled over in the first place and therefore he should qualify for this diversionary treatment into this diversion into treatment. Zones it worked well at work he was six. We'll see if it works he was successful in the first step which is to get diverted and that's kind of how the law works so the way don't go to jail you're going.

You don't write your criminal proceedings are suspended or stopped and then you go into this treatment plan which you've told the court about and you have a treating physician and things like that you will report back regularly.

It seems like a good change in the law. Why. Why is the law enforcement objecting to it.

Two things very things probably one is the way that this law came about it was slipped into a trailer bill which are these large end of session budget bills these grab bags where people are just voting and really not voting with their know what they're voting on. In it didn't go through any hearings. There was no analysis by the Legislative Analyst's Office. There was no opportunity to lobby or anything like that it was put into this bill that certainly funds the government. Is the 15th of 20 separate items in this bill that included things like needle exchange and Medicaid eligible.

And then it becomes law. And it was a it is potentially a very substantial change to the criminal justice system vests the judges with a lot of discretionary authority about who goes and who doesn't. And really no guidelines do it.

The the law itself is like three four or five presidents that have a challenge to the mental health system that need more.

Although they welcome it and I think I should say that I think that the motivations for the law are kind of good as many of us know have covered courts. You know a substantial portion of people who come to court are arrested or get in trouble do have an underlying mental health issue and for decades our response has been you're guilty go to jail here are some pills. You know there isn't a whole lot of treatment. The idea of this is to stop that at the front end try to get them some help and treatment.

The diversion can last up to two years. You report regularly back to the judge in the court if you goof up or screw up or something bad happens or the judge just doesn't think it's working. Diversion is stopped in the criminal case proceeds. If you successfully make it though the criminal charges are wiped out it's like it never happened to all defendants right.

Not everybody can claim this.

Now it's not the initial iteration of the law just opened it up. So this was really the impetus for the resistance from law enforcement was if it was just anybody who was charged with a crime. So their concern was murderers rapists you know violent assault people could a fine health here. So a few months after that after this great hue and cry which was kind of motivated not just by the implications of the law as it was initially drafted but also the way it came about. They amended it and now there is a list of eight or nine offenses for which you are ineligible for treatment.

That includes murder manslaughter rape child abuse. A lot of 290 sex sexual offenses and things like that where you can't. That seems to have sort of tamped down some of the anger about it. But there is still an enormous amount of resistance here in San Diego and I think across the state from prosecutors about this law. They see it as essentially kind of a Dodge or a back door for people to not just to avoid the court system or punishment but to walk away with a clean record.

We're getting a ton of defendants trying to go this route.

I inquired about this in mid December before the holidays and in San Diego they had had I think 17 cases 18 cases. Not many. It was interesting. Many of the offences were pretty minor offenses a lot of misdemeanors of multiple felonies. No. No big crazy actions. Exactly.

The question is whether there will be the treatment that you know would be a more appropriate response to that.

Exactly and that's kind of one of the the issues in there as I said there have been two cases that the judges have granted diversion 15 where they've denied it all 17 of those cases. That time the prosecutor said it said no to any kind of diversion.

The difference distinguishes between who is successful with it and who you know it's hard to say.

And I didn't look at all the files but I think one of the things was in the two that were successful they had very very detailed treatment plans.

They said this doctor this treatment this amount of time we're going to look at this this outcome and things like that. Some of the other cases the they had a diagnosis they had a doctor saying yes he has a or she has a mental illness.

We can treat them this way and it wasn't as specific and I think the judges who were probably a little wary of this law want to know what what they're doing and want to know what they're in for and who's going to follow up with them where they are at that exact. And you know it'll be interesting to see if there is kind of the infrastructure in the mental health community to absorb and to handle these people that the law does seem to indicate that the county should set up a kind of a separate diversion treatment program for these people.

And that hasn't happened yet.

All right we're watching the follow up on that a lot of good stories to follow up on today. Well we are at a time that we're upset wraps up another week of stories at the PBS roundtable.

I'd like to thank my yes. Reporter Greg Moran of the Union Tribune PBS reporter Jean Guerrero. Jeff Light publisher of The Union Tribune and reporter Allison St. John who covers North County for PBS. And a reminder all of the stories we discuss today are available on our Web site KPBS dot o r g. I Mark Sauer. Happy New Year and thanks for joining us today on the roundtable.