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Escondido Councilmember Responds To E-Verify Criticism

Escondido City Hall
City of Escondido
Escondido City Hall
Escondido Councilmember Responds To E-Verify Criticism
We'll hear about plans in the city of Escondido to "embrace diversity," and whether city leaders intend to revise the controversial E-Verify program.

Last week, Escondido took steps that some see as an outreach to the city's Latino population. Through community events and social media, city leaders say they are hoping to make Escondido a more welcoming place. But there's some history the city will have to overcome. Including Escondido's commitment to mandating businesses use the "e-verify" system to get contracts with the city. In fact, that entire federal verification system is getting failing grades in a new San Diego ACLU report.


Escondido City Council member Ed Gallo


Kevin Keenan, executive director for the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties.

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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.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Last week, Escondido took steps to some see as an outreach to the city's Latino population. Through new community events and social media, city leaders say they are hoping to make Escondido a more welcoming place. But there's some history the city will have to over come, including Escondido's commitment to mandating businesses use the e-verify system to get contracts with the city. In fact, that entire federal verification system is getting failing grades in a new ACLU report out of San Diego. I'd like to welcome my guests, Escondido City Council member, Ed Gallo. Hello. Thanks for joining us.

GALLO: Good morning. Or good afternoon.

CAVANAUGH: And Kevin Keenan is executive director for the ACLU of San Diego, and imperial counties. Hi Kevin.

KEENAN: Thanks for having me.


CAVANAUGH: Councilman Gallo, first of all, do you agree with Escondido's move to try to bring the community together with these new events and social media sites?

GALLO: Well, the city of Escondido has a long history with the Hispanic community. It's not just Latinos, it's the Hispanic community in general. Now we have a population that is diversified to the paint where I think our Asian population is around 6 or 7%, along with the Hispanic population. So becoming a little more diverse as we have been in the past is one of the reasons -- we're a community. And that's what we should be doing. We should be embracing the diversity and not being divisive. And you brought up a point about the e-verify system.


GALLO: Every time someone brings up a point to separate Latinos, Caucasians, Asians, whatever, that's being divisive.


GALLO: When you start separating people like that, you're being divisive. To me, that's not unifying anything. And this is where we have to get passed that point

CAVANAUGH: Let me be clear with you, City Council member, Ed Gallo. You don't see that Escondido might have a particular bridge to build with the Latino community in Escondido, which is now 49% of the population?

GALLO: I'm not saying that we don't have that bridge to cross because -- what I'm saying is, people keep bringing up this division that we want this or you should have this, and this is for this. That's not how you unify things. That's not how you get people together. That's how you divide people, and you make separations. And you have this group over here, and this group over here. I thought this country did away with affirmative action years ago. But the reality is, we haven't. We're stepping right back to this, and we always keep hearing about what we try to do five years ago. That's in the past. It's history. Forget about it.


GALLO: Let's get on with the future.

CAVANAUGH: In general, though, this idea for new community event, embracing diversity, social media, do you give it a thumbs up?

GALLO: Yeah.


GALLO: I think it's a good idea. We have new events, we have the J Buddha in town, in January this year, we have a large Asian population, it was widely popular in grape day park. And we have a lot of other events that are American events, we have -- I'm going to look at this here. Dia de los Ninos. So we have a variety of different events in Escondido, and we could do more.

CAVANAUGH: Let me go to you, Kevin Keenan, I know the ACLU has been involved in some efforts in the city of Escondido, specifically saying that there are some things going on there like traffic stops, etc, that are geared toward some would say targeting the Latino community up in Escondido. You have some history with that.

KEENAN: Right. So we were part of a group that helped challenge and stop the 2006 ordinance that was going to penalize landlords for renting to undocumented immigrants.

GALLO: May I just interject real quickly? I don't mean to interrupt you, Kevin. I know you have a very valid point. But you didn't stop that. The federal judge did. Go ahead.

KEENAN: Right. In response to the lawsuit that we brought. And I think -- I do want to commend the folks in Escondido for talking about diversity and opening a dialogue and recognizing that there is this tremendous new diversity in Escondido. I question the sincerity, but honestly when I hear from counsel member Gallo, I think the problem lies more in folks don't realize, folks in the City Council in particular don't realize that their policies and practices are the things that are divisive. And that to open up a conversation about diversity and embracing diversity is in conflict with their everyday policies and practices, which don't go back only to 2006. They're adding something new every year. And really an outlier within this region, no other municipality in San Diego County has immigration agents stationed in their police station. They were riding along in the squad cars with Escondido police. No other municipality has the aggressive checkpoint and impound policy that Escondido has. And the list goes on. And I think that a true show of commitment to diversity, especially the Latino population, would recognize that these policies are problematic, that Latino families are intertwined with undocumented citizens, and that that's an important part. I'm hopeful that counsel member Gallo and others there engaged in this conversation will come to a more realistic and true picture of what diversity means.

CAVANAUGH: Let me give you a chance to respond, counsel member Gallo.

GALLO: It sounds like, okay, because -- it seems to be that we may be a little bit more aggressive in doing the DUI checkpoints, etc, so you quantify that by if we were to do less, it would being -- I didn't catch that part. I didn't understand that portion of it.

CAVANAUGH: Basically, you're asking Kevin Keenan how he would like to see the city change?

GALLO: Kevin, can I ask you a question? Have you ever been through one of our Czech points?

KEENAN: No, I haven't but my staff has.

GALLO: There's a problem.

KEENAN: My staff has.

GALLO: If you travel through one of the Czech points, and I have been to almost all of them that we have had, just to observe the process, and there is no discrimination, there is no profiling, it's six cars come through, everybody else keeps going down the street. When those six are verified, and it takes like a minute, then six more are pulled in, and everybody else goes by. There's no profiling done at all. It's -- I always am amazed at how people can criticize this, and when I ask them have you ever been? No. Then how can you talk about it?

CAVANAUGH: I wonder, counsel member Gallo, why do you think there's such an agitation among the Latino community against this measure?

GALLO: Because we also have violators without driver's licenses, without insurance. I could tell you stories that I've seen at the Czech point that would make your hair curl. And you wonder, this is the reason why we do these thing system to try to make our streets a little bit saver than they have been in the past. And statistics bear out, some of the things we're doing are definitely working so --

CAVANAUGH: I'd like to move on to Escondido considering softening the e-verify requirement for businesses contracting with the city. It's my understanding, councilman Gallo, that there's the idea that perhaps smaller businesses would not have to qualify with this mandate to use e-verify? Do you agree with that?

GALLO: No. That's not my opinion, and I go along with -- if you're going to have a law, then obey the law. If you don't want to obey the law, then get it changed. Right now, we have the U.S. companies can employ individuals only who reside legally in the United States. We're taking the opportunity to verify that everybody is legal to work in the United States, and if you're not here legally to work in the United States, they shouldn't be here. And I don't care if a company has five employees or 500, a company is a company. And that was our policy. That any company, no restrictions as to size, that does work for the city of Escondido will use the e-verify system to make sure that everyone is legal. And we want to abide by the law.

CAVANAUGH: Kevin Keenan, a report coming out from the ACLU this week is very critical of the e-verify system. What is the problem with the system as you see it?

KEENAN: Well, I think -- I acknowledge that it has a lot of appeal on the surface. And I just note in terms of Escondido being outside the norm, it's the first municipality and so far the only municipality to have this requirement for its contractors. And interestingly, this report from the New York Times shows that the ideology of being tough on immigrants, that Escondido wants to pursue, is running up the reality and costs of these programs to businesses and small businesses. So we have a report that isn't just about Escondido but scratches the surface of the e-verify program to show businesses and governments what the true and more problematic nature of the e-verify program is. And you can look forward to that later this week at It's really the full story people should have before they consider adopting e-verify. It's what Escondido is running up against now. There's speculation that fewer businesses will bid on city contracts, and that'll raise the prices for taxpayer funded projects.

CAVANAUGH: Does the ACLU have a problem with the aim of e-verify?

KEENAN: You know, I think that we're -- when places like Escondido and Arizona adopt e-verify, it's out of frustration with the federal government not doing its job, and not addressing immigration in a comprehensive way. We think that's what needs to happen. I think Escondido's time and energy would be more effective and less damaging to everyday people's lives if they pressured their congressmen to finally get some action in Washington. We think that's really where the only meaningful solution has. Until then, these things just hurt small businesses and immigrant families in particular.

CAVANAUGH: One of the things that your report points out is that e-verify may have a severe impact on San Diego's agriculture industry. Talk to us about that.

KEENAN: 27% of the work force in San Diego County is immigrant families. And as I mentioned before, these families are intertwined between documented and undocumented. Our economy right now commends on immigrant workers. And so for Escondido to target immigrants is going to divide and tear apart immigrant families until we have a comprehensive immigration solution out of Washington, which the ACLU supports, actions by places like Escondido are just going to be harmful.

CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, councilman Gallo of course do you agree with the idea that you're not getting much guidance from the federal government on this?

GALLO: What do you mean much guidance? I agree with Kevin on one thing. The border issue has been a catastrophe for many may be years. There has not been any resolve from our federal government to do anything about the border. They throw a few dollars here and there but don't accomplish a darn thing. One thing we do have to help us out is the e-verify system. And right from the U.S. citizenship and immigrant website, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is working to stop unauthorized employment, by using e-verify, etc., etc. So we're just trying to help them out, okay? That's all we're on trying to do. The law says you have to be legal here to work, here's my position on the immigration thing. I'm glad Kevin specified that the immigration population is a mix of illegal and legal immigrants. If we really need immigrants or a laborer force for agriculture, which I think is four% of the laborer force is that, then why can't we use something similar to the Basero program that seemed to work fairly well many years ago? It started back in I think the '40s. This ended in 76 or 77 for whatever reason. And I can't get a reason why it was done away with. In 73, we had a camp here in Escondido, nice buildings for the workers to live in, businesses that took them up to the fields, they were here Monday or Friday they went home on the weekends they came back, it seemed like it was working. Okay? They made money, they took it back to wherever they came from, the growers had a laborer force to pick their fruits and vegetables. It seemed like at least to me like it was working. And ever since then, we have had a problem.

CAVANAUGH: Councilman Gallo, let's see if we have an area of agreement here.

KEENAN: I think a wonderful outcome of this diversity initiative would be if you, council member, and other conservative allies would join together with the Latino community calling on your congressmen to break the logjam in Washington and do it in a meaningful way. Really lobby these folks out of concern for a comprehensive solution. I'd recommend that to you.

GALLO: Absolutely. I agree with Kevin on that, okay? We may disagree on a lot of other things, but I think this one point versus as Americans, I think we should all agree that the border issue needs to be resolved.

CAVANAUGH: I can't believe that we're going to end this on an upbeat note. I've been speaking with Escondido City Council man, Ed Gallo. Thank you. Kevin Keenan with the ACLU of San Diego and imperial counties. I know there are lots more in the report that's coming out, and where can people find that again?


CAVANAUGH: Thank you both.

GALLO: Okay, thanks.