Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Evening Edition

San Diego Leaders Tackle Immigration Reform

San Diegans United for Commonsense Immigration Reform
San Diego Leaders Tackle Immigration Reform
GUESTSNorma Chavez-Peterson, Associate Director, San Diego ACLU Nathan Fletcher, Former San Diego Assemblymember, Senior Director of Corporate Development for Qualcomm and Chair of SDUCIR

CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition, a broad-based group of San Diego leaders is speaking out in support of immigration reform. Today, San Diego law enforcement officials joined, executives and labor leaders to support who they call common sense immigration reform. Meanwhile, in Washington DC, a bipartisan effort is underway to come up with an immigration reform plan that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Joining us are my guest, former state assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, now senior director of corporate development at Qualcomm, and chair of the newly formed San Diegans united for common sense immigration reform. Welcome to the program. FLETCHER: Thank you for having me on. CAVANAUGH: And Norma Chavez-Peterson is Associate Director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. Norma, welcome. CHAVEZ-PETERSON: Thank you. CAVANAUGH: And I want to apologize in advance if we have to cut our conversation short because of breaking news out of Vatican City. FLETCHER: No problem. CAVANAUGH: Now, can you, give us some idea of this newly form group? FLETCHER: It really represents all the identities across logical spectrum. We have business leaders that range from doctor Irwin Jacobs, and a lot of business organization, Dwayne Roth was there today, and Mark Capry, Joe Panetta from BIOCOM we have others that really represent the business community. Then law enforcement. Sheriff Bill Gore headed up the law enforcement section. Chief Lance drown, our District Attorney, Bonnie Dumanis. Leaders from the agricultural community. Leaders from faith community, bishop Roy Dixon, and Norma and leaders from civil rights and civil liberties organizations. So it really is an unbelievable coalition that came together behind these principles. CAVANAUGH: Now, I guess you could cast a safe bet that not every one of these people in this group has the same idea of what constitutes good immigration reform. So what are the core principles that you're dedicated to embracing? FLETCHER: The four core principles, then there's a more detailed explanation for each of them, but the first is a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million folks who need to get out of the shadow. The second part is reform of the visa system, to have a market-based system that both allows us to get the skilled and lesser skills workers we need to grow our economy but also ensures worker protections. Then we talked about the need for a safe border and a really investment in that, both from a security standpoint, but also from of a commerce standpoint of the then the fourth really is to ensure that we're protecting civil liberties that are enshrined in the constitution and the rule of law. I would say that every member of the constituency cares about all four of those because we all signed onto them in totality. But one or the other may be more important. But we realize no one gets their issue addressed unless we all come together and support a comprehensive solution. CAVANAUGH: Norma, you represent the ACLU. The ACLU has been very active in standing firm for immigrants' rights, undocumented workers' right when is they are violated or threatened. And I'm wondering what part of this puzzle do you see the ACLU being in this new coalition? What can you bring to the table so to speak? CHAVEZ-PETERSON: Well, I just want to echo what Nathan said. Even though there might be a particular interest of our organization, I think we recognize that we need to make sure that we're committed to all four key principles. From the ACLU perspective, of course we want reform to uphold our constitutional values. CAVANAUGH: I'm going to have to hold you up. The curtains have opened in Vatican City. We go now to BBC news. [BBC World Service Breaking News] CAVANAUGH: I'd like to get back to the story we were talking about before we were interrupted by this world news event. We're talking about a new conference that occurred today announcing the formation of San Diegans united for common sense immigration reform. Can you reiterate the common goals for us before we were interrupted? FLETCHER: Yeah, we came together mind four core principles, and those are outlined at A pathway to citizenship, we all agreed that has to happen. The second is a reform of the visa system to ensure that we're meeting the needs of our economy, both with high-skilled and lesser skilled worker, but also to ensure there's proper worker protections in there for wages and working conditions. And so a complete overhaul of that system. The third was ensuring we invest in having a border that is smart and secure while also allowing for commerce and cultural exchange to happen. And the fourth is in all of that there have to be the protections of civil liberties, of individual rights, civil rights. And we detail out what those mean to us more on the site. CAVANAUGH: And you were in the process of answering, Norma, what the ACLU is bringing to the table here because the ACLU of course, known for standing for the rights of undocumented immigrants. What do you bring to this coalition? CHAVEZ-PETERSON: I think we bring our commitment to the core, fundamental principleless of our constitution. Civil liberty protections. So I think we bring that experience and the fact that we're working with this diverse of stakeholders. And just to echo Nathan, if we can do this, if the sheriff of the county, if other law enforcement leaders and the ACLU can agree on these four principles, so can our leaders to Congress. CAVANAUGH: Nathan Fletcher what is the motivation for this coalition to come together now? FLETCHER: I think it's born out of a frustration with what you see in Washington. This issue has lingered for years. And I don't want to oversimplify it. If it wered easy, it would be done already. But each of us have areas that are directly impacting what we're doing. At Qualcomm, you see everyone talk about jobs, jobs, jobs. We have jobs. They're open today. And we can't fill them. They're good jobs, they provide you healthcare, you make enough money to buy a home and put your kids through college. But we have a system where we have American-educated students who go to UC San Diego, get a degree, you have a company that wants to hire them in a job that no one else has the skills for, and we can't. They're sent overseas. You have other folks who care about the security aspect, pathway to citizenship, and we all came together and said we realize we're all going to have to step out of our comfort zone a little bit, give a little bit. But we wanted to spend a powerful message to the public and the elected officials that it's time to get this done. The time is now. And it can't wait. It's vital to our economy, our security, and it's vital to our moral values. Immigrants really are the backbone and represent so much of what America stands for. CAVANAUGH: Well, let me -- you say step out of your comfort zone. Let me ask you both a question that perhaps is out of your comfort zones. When it comes to providing highly skilled workers who are foreign, who are not documented in the United States, providing them visas to work in high-tech industries like Qualcomm, there is the counter argument that there are plenty people here in the United States who are citizens who would like to be trained for those jobs or are not being hired in mid-career because the high-tech industry prefers younger workers. FLETCHER: Well, we talked about it today at the press conference. And I said we are all in agreement that the long-term solution is a real investment in our education system, both in K-12 and higher education so that American kids have the skills they need to be competitive in today a dynamic workforce. Now, we're not going to reform the education system tomorrow. We have to do it, that's the highest priority, and we agree that is the ideal solution. But in the meantime, between now and when that's able to take place, we shouldn't let jobs that can be created here locally go overseas. And we have jobs that are open that we would love to fill if. And if people have the skills, they should apply, and we'll hire them in a heartbeat. We hired 5,000 people last year just at Qualcomm alone. But you have a system where they can get a student visa, develop amazing idea, amazing technologies, they can have all of this in their head, and then we force them and their ideas and their talents to leave America. We also have them take the capital that we'll invest in making a reality, and the jobs that will support this. We want to create those here locally. And we can do it with the system that ensures American workers have the preference, the first shot, and that all workers are protected. CAVANAUGH: Okay, let me take you a little bit out of your comfort zone, norm A. Some elements of the immigration proposal being worked out in the Senate are pretty widely known. They include undocumented immigrants being fined for illegal entry, denied virtually all federal benefits while they wait up to ten years before they can get a green card. Will the ACLU support a plan like that? CHAVEZ-PETERSON: Well, I can't say whether -- we have not had that discussion. I think there's a lot of proposals on the table now both from the Senate, the house, and the White House plan. I think it's the ACLU's interest to be, and we continue to be, engaged in the conversation. We have a Washington legislative office. We're part of a national organization. So we're going to continue to push for the pieces that will uphold basic civil rights and protections. And with whatever happens, I think we're going to continue to be committed to continue to fight for people's rights and protections. Whether immigration reform happens, it doesn't happen, or whatever does happen, I think we're going to continue to be the protector of people's fundamental rights in this country. CAVANAUGH: Now, the San Diego unified school district unanimously approved a resolution in support of immigration reform last night. I'm wondering if you could perhaps both -- think of the entirety that you foresee how San Diego would benefit if a comprehensive immigration reform package were to be approved. FLETCHER: Oh, it's vital. It's vital for our economy, to be competitive, to continue to grow, and have industries that continue to grow. It's vital to having a public safety system that's actually workable. You can't have citizens working in the shadows, you can't have people afraid to call the police when crimes happen. We can't be one as a society if we continue to have these multiple classes of people. It's vital to our moral fabric. America was literally built my immigrants. Our economy, our prosperity. So far I think it touches every aspect. It touches some of the high-tech industries, the lesser skilled industries, our education system. We had a young man speak today, Pedro who's an engineering student at San Diego state university, unbelievable student, undocumented. Came here when he was 1-year-old. These are all of the issues that have to be fixed. Now is the time where these difficult decisions have to be made. The things have to be worked out because we can't grow as a society and an economy if it's not addressed. CAVANAUGH: And Norma, what across the board benefits to San Diego do you see in an immigration reform package? CHAVEZ-PETERSON: I think Nathan kind of nailed most of them. I think from just being an immigrant myself and having family members of mixed statuses, U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, and some still undocumented that have been here from a very early age, I mean that this would really bring -- really live up to our value of family and our valley of America being really that land of opportunity and promise that so many immigrants come here for. I think it's critical for so many reasons, but most importantly it would have been great if we had them here, sheriff gore to say it will make all of us safer if we create a path for people to come out of the shadows. CAVANAUGH: What's the next step for this new group? FLETCHER: Well, today we did the announcement. We launched the website. And we're encouraging folks to go to the website to lend their name to our effort. To embrace the principles. We have an 800 number that's on the website where you can call and it will connect you to your member of Congress. And you can say, hey, this is important, we want you to get it done. When you think immigration reform, we all know the imagine that pops in our head. And it's the border. But immigration reform affects us all. It affects the student at San Diego state, our law enforcement trying to provide safety, it affects our churches and our faith communities. And this organization is going to really go out and tell that story to all of those communities and try and move public opinion. CAVANAUGH: And I'll wrap it up there. I've been speaking with Nathan Fletcher, chair of the newly formed San Diegans united for common sense immigration reform. And ACLU attorney Norma Chavez Peterson. Thank you both, and thank you for your patience. FLETCHER: Thank you. CHAVEZ-PETERSON: Thank you.

San Diego Leaders Tackle Immigration Reform
As Congress and the White House continue to work on a comprehensive immigration-reform package, a coalition of San Diego leaders today are launching a joint local campaign.

As Congress and the White House continue to work on a comprehensive immigration-reform package, a coalition of San Diego leaders today are launching a joint local campaign.

San Diegans United for Commonsense Immigration Reform, chaired by former state Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, brings together leaders from the business community, law enforcement, labor groups and faith-based organizations to share perspectives on how best to improve the immigration system.

Fletcher told KPBS a broad coalition of law enforcement, business, labor, civil liberties and faith group leaders are involved.

"I think every member of this coalition cares about immigration for different reasons, everyone wants it solved in its entirety," he said. "If we all across the spectrum can agree on specific principles, then our leaders in Washington should also be able to."

Norma Chavez-Peterson, the associate director of the San Diego ACLU, said the idea is to tell leaders to take the message back to Washington D.C.


"I think the stars are aligned," she said. "I'm hopeful that our country can move forward."

The group formally announced the effort and presented its guiding principles at Qualcomm Wednesday morning.

There Fletcher said the broken immigration system affects all of the groups involved, including Qualcomm. That’s because the current visa system often makes it hard for foreign-born, U.S.-trained engineers to stay in the country after graduation.

“We have jobs that are open today that we aren’t able to fill because we can’t get the workers with the skills that are needed,” he said.

Aside from visa reforms, the coalition will call on legislators to include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, more efficient borders and a ban on racial profiling in the immigration system.

"We have a unique opportunity to achieve the type of reform that has eluded us for generations," leaders stated in a news release.

Immigration was also a topic at the San Diego Unified School Board meeting Tuesday night. The board unanimously approved an immigration-reform resolution, authored by board members Richard Barrera and Kevin Beiser. The resolution states:

"Immigration reform must seek to restore trust between immigrant and refugee communities and local police by reducing racial profiling and increasing transparency and accountability for the involvement of federal immigration authorities in local law enforcement. The board supports a reasonable and wide-ranging approach to reforming the now broken immigration system that protects children, youth, and their families.”

Qualcomm Chief Executive Paul Jacobs, along with other business executives across the nation, attended an immigration-reform meeting with President Obama last month. Many business leaders support Obama's plan in the hope it will make the country more competitive.