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Roundtable: Asylum Seeking Family Split Apart

March 1, 2019 1:06 p.m.

PANEL:

Erik Anderson, reporter, KPBS News

Kate Morrissey, reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Joshua Emerson Smith, reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

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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.

Heartbreak for an asylum seeking family who made a harrowing journey to San Diego. The father separated his asylum case denied. Now supporters are trying to stop his deportation. Local governments embrace community choice energy how the city and county of San Diego are moving forward. And I might be another year before shovels are in the ground but the issue now has a partner and the price for its new stadium. I'm Mark Sauer the PBS roundtable starts now.

Welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories I'm Mark Sauer. And joining me at the PBS roundtable today energy reporter Joshua Emmerson Smith of the San Diego Union Tribune. KATE MORRISSEY who covers immigration and the border for the Union Tribune and KPRC as business and environment reporter Eric Anderson Well Donald Trump declares an immigration emergency at the border. Democrats in Congress moved to block him accusing the president of ginning up a phony crisis using phony stats. Meantime thousands of people seeking asylum in the US from horrors back home weighed on both sides of the border for their cases to play out often lost in all of this is what happens to the real people including those who risked death to reach the border and who face death if their asylum claim is turned down.

Supporters are rallying around one such family this week in San Diego. They're not from Latin America but from the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa. And Kate start there what's what's the overview on this family where did they go through to get to our border.

It's it's a little hard to give an overview because they went through so many things. Their story is as they told it to me begins a couple of years ago with the father supporting one of the opposition parties in the DRC. One of the parties that is pushing for greater democracy in the country. And he ended up being targeted by the party in power and kidnapped by police beaten tortured the wife who went to look for him was similarly locked up by police at the police station and then raped by several of the officers there.

The family was later poisoned while they were asleep someone injected something into the house that they woke up feeling very ill. Their dog was killed. They were they were constantly going through these different kinds of threats. And so they fled and went through a very long journey from. Africa to Brazil up from Brazil through what is a pretty common migrant path these days but still a very dangerous one as they were crossing between two of the countries in Central America. They were on a boat trying to go go the naval route and the boat.

Ended up getting in a shipwreck. And so they all almost drowned and they believe it's sort of this miracle of God that that both parents and the seven children all managed to survive that and and make it up to the U.S. border where they requested asylum.

Yes harrowing doesn't quite cover that. I mean it's a remarkable story. But the father wound up in Georgia the state of Georgia and his claim has already been denied. Why was his case split off from the rest of the family. So for a long time it was pretty common practice for if a full family showed up together for the father of the family to be sent to immigration.

Detention centers somewhere in the country while the rest of the family was released. They can't hold children indefinitely in detention and so they would keep the children with the mother to take care of the children and usually the father would be separated. But the thing is is when you separate the family the cases also get separated in immigration court. So the father's case was in was out of the detention center where he was held in rural Georgia. The family's case is actually still pending here in San Diego.

So they're just on different tracks and they said his has already been denied. So that brings us to the rally here this week yesterday in San Diego. Explain what's happened there.

So he basically he tried to represent himself in immigration court which is very difficult to do for anyone. He's not a native English speaker his English isn't strong. You have to fill out all of the paperwork in English. You have to have translations of all of your documents in English. And he struggled with that. He lost his case. He tried to appeal his case by himself as well. And it was only after he lost the appeal that a church that the family joined here found out what was going on and managed to find an attorney to step in and try to help.

So now that he's already lost his appeal there's a much more sort of limited set of legal options and so that attorney has been filing emergency motions to keep him here in the country with the 11th Circuit and the 11th Circuit had an emergency stay on his removal up until today. And so yesterday's rally was in support of him too to ask ice not to deport him today when that emergency stay ended.

And it's clear based on the story as you as you laid it out that if he were to be sent back deported back to the Congo which I assume is where they deport him to his life is in grave danger certainly according to his story his family's story what what's been told to me.

He they they all believe that he is in grave danger and very likely to be killed if he goes back.

All right we do have a statement a soundbite from his daughter Marie from yesterday's rally. Let's hear the I feel very sad.

My family in high. We feel very sad because. We miss my dad a lot. He was the only one was helping me with my homework was telling me that education is the most important life and knowing I feel like. I have to do everything by myself. And I miss my dad a lot. And.

He's don't deport my dad. Give him a chance. To stay with us. And to help me again. Because I feel like I have to do everything by myself. Thank you.

Certainly. A heart rending story there at that rally what's the situation now with with this family.

So aside from the dad's case as of this morning they were all still waiting to hear what would happen from the 11th Circuit. Like I said the attorney had filed another motion with the 11th Circuit to try and keep him here longer while she tries to reopen his case to say I have new evidence I have you know things I can submit that weren't in the original case. I'd like the ability to submit those and go back over those with a judge. And so it's all sort of in this limbo to see how much they'll be allowed to do that.

And after everything they've gone through to get here as we described how are they coping. I mean the pressures on the family must be enormous facing what's facing the patriarch the father.

Yes. So they're they're definitely going through a lot. I think even you know absent the separation there's there's a lot of trauma from the different things they've lived through. The mother. Has been evaluated by a psychiatric expert. She definitely has PTSD and other symptoms of trauma that show what she's been through when she tells her story. You can you can sort of see it in her face and hear it in her voice the the sort of it's a it's almost a distance that she places between herself and the words that are coming out.

Now we've noted this on the show before here but these folks are seeking asylum under laws and treaties in many countries United States among them have these laws allowing people to show up at the border to have a hearing and Grantham asylum if if they're deemed worthy of that under their situation under the law. Give us some sense of the scope here. I mean how many folks are trying to apply for asylum I don't know the numbers or even even a definite at this point it is really hard to get at that number.

There because there's there's a lot of different points at which people can enter the system and there's a lot of different ways you could measure it. So you have people who are arriving at the border without documents saying please help me you know I'd like asylum. You also have people from Latin America from from Latin America from from different countries in Africa from China from from all over the place India. You also have people who manage to come on visitor visas student visas who walk in the door with a piece of paper that says yes you can come in and then once they're here they apply for asylum and as long as they do that within their first year of being here they go through another process.

And you also have people who maybe don't make their asylum claim right away but later on in their immigration court proceedings they say oh no I've been evaluated and it turns out my attorney thinks I might have an asylum case. So let me let me apply. So it's really it's really hard to get at that number because we measure pieces of it and we measure in different ways. But we don't as far as I've found and I've I'm previously a data reporter so I've looked pretty hard. It's really hard to get at that number.

Okay.

All right well we're out of time on this segment where we'll certainly watch for the follow up and what happens to this family and this ongoing issue of asylum at the border it's not going away anytime soon. Well San Diego is embarking on a major experiment regarding simple something vital to all of us energy. It's a public alternative to San Diego Gas and Electric with the cumbersome name of community choice aggregation or C S.A. Well we stumble with that. This has happened elsewhere in California since 2010. But as the genie faces the biggest loss of customers in the state to complicated story with huge ramifications because of course Josue it's all about energy and tell us what is CCAR.

Give us the the thumbnail on that one.

So community choice aggregation or community choice energy as some people call it is somewhere between a municipal utility like L.A. water and power and just having your investor owned utility service your your jurisdiction right. So with the municipal utility the public agency owns everything the Poles the wires and they purchase. They decide where they're going to purchase the electricity from natural gas plant wind solar. What have you with community choice aggregation which is like a hybrid of the two the public entity will decide where they're going to purchase the energy from. But here in San Diego SD Jeannie would still operate the poles and wires and the infrastructure to deliver the energy all right.

And is it is it the case where where.

The utility is is to essentially put out of business or does it change their business model.

Yeah. So they're not put out of business with community choice aggregation. Right. So they still will operate the grid. Right. They're still going to get the electricity from a to b.

But the city or the Joint Powers Authority the group of cities or a group of municipal organizations will decide where that power is coming from. They'll say well we want a contract with this natural gas plant or actually we want a contract with this solar plant and they'll ink the deals for deciding where the power comes from and the idea is that the cost consumers get a choice though prices are more favorable.

And also you're going to move to toward clean energy and get away from fossil fuels in the long run.

Yeah so the advocates of CCI say well too much money goes to these executives at SD Janney and Sam Brown. Right. Like like let's not deal with all of that overhead. We can deliver a more efficient way of getting that power buying buying that power and we can also make decisions about what we're going to invest in.

So we're gonna say yeah we want to. We want to build a lot of solar right here in our backyard and we want to put people to work and we want to make all these decisions about what we invest in.

The tricky thing with this though is CCI is not a utility right. So its bond ratings and the amount of assets it has to borrow against are extremely limited and that's where we are right now in this kind of initial stage where we've seen CCAR is coming about for the last 10 years or so.

But the question that's lingering out there is will they really be able to make good on their promise of investing in new renewable energy.

And even after 10 years it's too early to tell.

Other cities in California that's a really good point. Right. Like we've seen this well. It really has kind of picked up over the last five years and now the experts who are following this say.

We're going to need another three to five years to really see if they can deliver on these promises because remember cities don't want to put their general funds behind a CCI. They don't. If the CCI goes belly up they don't want the general fund to be on their ought to be on the hook right. So that's why they form these joint powers authorities right and that's what the city of San Diego and all these other cities are looking to.

Also the Senate was the big dog here but they're trying to get a whole region of cities involved totally right.

Like so CCI has been on everyone's lips right for the last like three years or we've been reporting on it for like the last three or four years. Right. But recently Kevin Faulkner the mayor of San Diego said you know what we're really going to do that. And ever since he said that back and I believe was October or November everyone else in the region has been kind of dog piling on topping like yeah we want to be part of that too. We want to be part of this joint powers authority and we'll all buy energy together and life will be great.

Right. Even the the County of San Diego a couple of supervisors are still kind of on the fence. Yes but even. But in February 2017 the County Board of Supervisors wouldn't even study it. Right now there's been some turnover on the board and now they're saying Yeah we're interested in maybe joining to.

All right that sets up a sonobuoy we have. Nathan Fletcher was one of the backers but as so as longtime supervisor Diane Jacob here's what she had to say about it.

This is positive. This has been done somewhere else and just looking up north the L.A. County Board of Supervisors has been operating Community Choice Energy Program for the last 18 months and they've entered into a joint powers authority with some like 40 different cities in the L.A. area and it's working and it's working well and what they have is not one choice but they have a whole list of choices that consumers can pick from. If somebody wants to go 100 percent renewable so I can do that if they want to mix they can do that.

All right Erik. Well the question I have for you is the utility was fighting this proposal early on right. They didn't want this to happen but now doesn't it seem to you like they're kind of accepting the idea that this is probably going to happen and they're they're already in contact with the state's regulators to see if the how their role is going to change.

Absolutely right. So SD Jeannie had a major lobbying campaign against this. Right. But that was disbanded several months ago after the mayor came out and said that the city was going to do this. And now at the latest hearing at the Board of Supervisors as DG and he stood up and said you know we're gonna we'll lend you our experts we'll help you put this together if that's the direction you want to go. And they've even gone so far as to talk to the legislature and the public utilities commission and request a glide path.

Out of buying and selling power altogether. They're saying this ESEA in San Diego could be so could encompass so much of our business roughly 70 to 80 percent if all the cities that are talking about it pile in that we would say let's just get out of the business of buying selling power altogether. We'll just we'll just operate the grid and you guys can go ahead and make your decisions about that. And that raises a whole bunch of other questions right about who's going to be the provider of last resort. Right off the CCI goes under.

Who's gonna keep the lights on. All right. So we've we've opened a whole Pandora's box with that. But yeah they're basically said you know OK you guys look like you want to do this.

We're not gonna fight any misdeed Jenny hold the G and it gets a point. How long are we talking about here. Who knows. It could be years yet before this really comes to fruition.

If we get there no I mean we're talking 20 21 you know they could have the JPA in place you know and and delivering power by 2022. I believe off the top of my head.

All right. Well a lot more to follow up there. Yes. We're out of time on this segment but I'm sure we'll have you back to talk about this and what it means on the ground for the average consumer and business. Well we're going to move on San Diego State University has entered into a quarter billion dollar contract to build a football stadium for the Aztecs first step in developing the Mission Valley stadium site which was greenlighted by voters last fall. But the move raises many questions for most. Where's that two hundred and fifty million dollars coming from and a lot more money after that.

Right. So start with this contract. Who's it with and what's the specific.

Sure what they're doing is they're engaging a firm Clark Construction that that helped build Petco Park. So they have a track record it's a national company. They've done all sorts of projects from stadiums they do buildings they work with colleges they do commercial work just a wide range of expertise and they've had contact with the local community and work right on this campus with Sandy.

Right. Right. I should stop and point out our housekeeping here San Diego State University holds the key PBS license. That is correct.

And what the university has done is basically said look we're going to spend 250 million dollars on a brand new multi sports facility. This is the company that we're going to work with the kind of pick the architect finalize the design and then actually let them build the facility. Where does the money come from. That's a very good question. The idea I think before voters took their their position on on the ballot measure that that was approved in November the university was saying look we're going to get the California State University system to kind of give us some bond money that we can we can we can use to buy the stadium property and then to start the construction of the model as the old state demolish the old stadium and start construction of the new stadium so they can have it ready for 2022 is their timeline.

And then that bond money would be repaid over time. The athletic director at San Diego State University has said look we want this facility to be able to pay for itself but the university hasn't really shared a lot of what their findings are on the numbers and I think there's some skepticism about whether or not the facility which right now would only have one tenant which would be the Aztec football team which isn't exactly a paying tenant if you own the structure not quite clear if that's creates enough revenue to pay for the kind of facility that they want to build.

Well what would be some of the other potential clients they're looking at soccer teams that could come in professional soccer teams they're looking at Arena football we've seen some of that here. I'm sure that they've probably had discussions with other sports professional sports or semi-professional sports leagues. The idea is to keep the stadium facility in use and that's how it generates the revenue. Right. You have concessions you have whatever parking there might be there. You have the fees paid for use of the facilities so I think that's that's their goal.

We're just not quite sure and the university hasn't been really transparent about the financials that they've looked into and it is something they've looked into. JM I realty which was one of their contractors did modeling financial modeling of that project and they have those numbers but the university has not been willing to share those and they're facing a couple of lawsuits one from the Utah Division.

What value insights would it. Could it. Sure. Yes.

I mean I didn't make any use I think if it was up to them they would use the facility 365 days a year if that was possible because anytime you use a facility that generates about somebody is ruining it.

So of the other questions you touched on this is the land itself.

They really they've got a contract to build a big huge.

There is news and land. Yeah there is news this weekend. The university has assembled a team of negotiators and they're preparing to start negotiations with the city of San Diego.

But remember the bond measure was approved back in November and were already in March now. So and they hope they hope to have environmental impact review done by January of 9.

That's not a small thing. It's not a small project. It can't be done. It's not a small project. We're hoping to bypass that right. No no no. This is actually one of their selling points was they were gonna do this environmental impact review. They're going to seek out public comment.

It's all part of the California environment it was going to bypass it right. Right. With that with the ballot measure. Right.

So they want to do this by January of 2020 so that they can start building the stadium that month and have it ready for the Aztec football season in 2022. That's seem a little optimistic at this point. It's a very aggressive. I'm not saying it can't be done but it's a very aggressive timeline. If there's a hiccup in the environmental impact review if there's a problem that they have to kind of spend some time we're well we should say briefly there is that plume that hole is going to hold toxic issue.

Well you find fuel tanks nearby and the bottom line when you dig up that parking lot may not be a good thing and it may it may upset the aggressive timeline that they have. Right.

So we've got all that going on. I want to do as we talk about the revenue itself. San Diego State has hasn't been all that successful in selling out the current stadium or even a big part of the stadium. You've got some national analysts quoted in The New spin the T here saying that other than Ohio State and Michigan and Alabama and the big power schools a lot of these college football stadiums don't pencil out.

They really operate in the red. If you're a businessman and you want to build a business. Very few businessmen who do their homework choose to build a stadium even a professional stadium in many markets doesn't make money it requires public support. So yeah the finances are kind of squishy. But again the university has not been very straightforward in sharing some of the numbers that they have. And some of the numbers that they're working for so we don't quite understand the source of their revenue and how much revenue they expect to generate.

And and in what economic conditions they would they would be able to operate in the black. We don't know if they're able to do it if the economy takes a turn to the left or the right and and we don't know exactly what kind of a ballpark they're looking for in terms of the amount of money that they can raise every year to pay off the bonds. And you know the contract was two hundred and fifty million dollars but that doesn't mean that's what the final stadium is going to cost. That just means that they've signed a contract and committed themselves to spending that much money change or conceivably could cost more.

You know their initial it's their initial estimate that they made almost two years ago.

So it is just what it would do. Like the intangibles. So like if it's not going to pay for itself why did they want it.

Like what. Well they need a place where the Aztec football tonight to play. They need to have a home for that. And presumably I would imagine that they will put some other San Diego State University sports in there when they can maybe the soccer team plays there other sports so they need a home for their sports program the sports program is part of the school's identity that they want to kind of raise to a higher level right.

So that's credit file that's critical for the university. The interesting thing I think during the campaign they made a they went out of their way to make the point that they weren't going to spend public and or student money on this project taxpayers on the hook thing. And I think a lot of people are questioning whether that's possible. And we just simply don't know the answer to that yet. But if we hold them to their word this is a project that's not going to cost taxpayers a penny.

All right. Briefly and we'll be more shows on this I'm sure the stars the other development at that mission Valley site aside from the stadium well stadium is just kind of the kickoff project.

The university has to buy the land. One hundred and thirty two acres they have to demolish Qualcomm make sure that there are no problems there under that facility and then they want to start construction of that stadium and that's all in that January 20 20 start date January August 20 20 to finish dates so that could be ready for football as those projects move. They'll be also working on building the housing that they want to build there. The public private partnerships that are going to pay some of the pay for some of the other development on the site.

So. It doesn't this is just one slice of a very big project you will.

And we'll be taking a lot more slices of apple as we move forward we are out of time. That does wrap up another week of stories at the Cape PBS roundtable. I'd like to thank my guests Joshua Emmerson Smith of the San Diego Union Tribune Kate Morrissey also of the Union Tribune and Eric Anderson of PBS news. And a reminder all the stories we discussed today are available on our Web site PBS dot org.

I'm Mark Sauer. Thanks for being with us today and join us again next Friday on the roundtable.