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Chula Vista is no longer a certified Welcoming City

Chula Vista became the first city in California to become a certified Welcoming City in 2019. Now, just three years later, it is also the first city in the state to lose that distinction. KPBS reporter Gustavo Solis explains why Chula Vista is no longer a Welcoming City.

Chula Vista has quietly abandoned its Welcoming City program, which designates cities as being immigrant friendly, after the certifying organization raised questions about the city’s surveillance programs.

The city officially lost its Welcoming City certification in December 2022, according to Welcoming America.

To become a certified Welcoming City, municipalities undergo a rigorous certification process that includes a review of their policies.


Welcoming America, the organization behind the process, outlines a set of "Welcoming Standards" that serve as benchmarks to ensure cities are inclusive. Those standards include equitable access to community services, programs that promote immigrant inclusion and policies that build trust between residents and law enforcement agencies.

Activists pushed Chula Vista to become a Welcoming City after the election of former President Donald Trump. And in 2019, Chula Vista became the first city in California to earn a Welcoming City certification.

But in 2022, City Manager Maria Kachadoorian decided not to go through the recertification process. Instead, she chose to prioritize other inclusion efforts.

This was after Chula Vista’s status as a certified Welcoming City was challenged in 2021 when an anonymous complaint prompted Welcoming America to review Chula Vista’s surveillance policies.

Between 2017 and 2020, the Chula Vista Police Department shared data from its Automated License Plate Reader program with federal immigration agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.


Then-Mayor Mary Salas said she was unaware of this data sharing until it was made public in December 2020.

In 2021, Welcoming America sent Chula Vista a letter expressing concern over this data-sharing program. One of the “Welcoming Standards” is that cities do not have policies that “increase the rate of immigrant detention or deportation.”

Welcoming America was unaware of this data-sharing policy during their original certification process.

“Had we known that this information was being shared, the assessment would have been noncompliant,” the letter states.

South Bay activists are livid that Chula Vista has abandoned the program.

Margaret Baker volunteered to help Chula Vista become the first city in California to earn a Welcoming City certification, and said Kachadoorian made this decision without getting input from local activists or the city’s Human Relations Commission, which helped get the city certified in 2019.

“I cannot believe that they would be so crude and rude to all of the people who have worked on this,” Baker said.

Since then, the city has not publicly acknowledged the loss. The removal of the Welcoming City certification has not been mentioned in any City Council or Human Relations Commission meetings, records show.

On the contrary, Chula Vista continues to boast about being a certified Welcoming City.

During a Feb. 7 City Council meeting, Kachadoorian mentioned the Welcoming City certification as one example of Chula Vista’s efforts to be more diverse and inclusive.

“The city has made significant strides towards advancing equity,” she said. “The city is ranked third in a New American Economy Index. We also have been certified as a Welcoming City for commitment, and efforts to include and welcome immigrants in areas of civic, social and economic life in Chula Vista.”

Chula Vista’s website also has a “Welcoming City” page that states, “Chula Vista is proud to be one of the cities leading the charge and setting the standard for embracing immigrants and refugees.”

Baker criticized the city’s lack of transparency.

“Someone should have had the decency to say it in one of the many meetings I’ve attended over the last six months,” she said. “I’m flabbergasted.”

A Chula Vista spokesperson said Mayor John McCann has been briefed.

The official reason for abandoning the Welcoming City program is that Chula Vista is focusing on other efforts, but the city remains committed to inclusion, spokesperson Anne Steinberger said in a statement:

"(Kachadoorian) made the decision not to pursue Welcoming City recertification because of staff priorities to launch development of the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) program and the effort to create the city’s Privacy Protection and Technology Transparency Policy. The ongoing efforts of these programs include immigrant inclusion strategies that will expand the city’s commitment to our immigrant communities,” the statement said.