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Roundtable: Reunification Deadline Passes

Immigrants seeking asylum Natalia Oliveira da Silva and her daughter, Sara, 5, hug as they wait at a Catholic Charities facility, Monday, July 23, 2018, in San Antonio.
Associated Press
Immigrants seeking asylum Natalia Oliveira da Silva and her daughter, Sara, 5, hug as they wait at a Catholic Charities facility, Monday, July 23, 2018, in San Antonio.
Roundtable: Reunification Deadline Passes
Roundtable: Reunification Deadline Passes PANEL: Jean Guerrero, reporter, KPBS News John Sepulvado, host, KQED's The California Report Amita Sharma, reporter, KPBS News Alison St John, reporter, KPBS News

Thousands of families were separated at the border. They're supposed to be back together by now. But that's not the case. Where do things stand for court ordered the reunification. San Diego needs new homes with a lot of vacant unincorporated land is off limits how developers are getting around the rules. And California's declining birth rate. Young couples say they're putting off parenthood due to the soaring cost of living. 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 Jeanne Guerrero who covers immigration for PBS. John SAPOL Buddo morning host of The California Report on KQED in San Francisco PBS North County Reporter Alison St. John and Kate PBS investigative reporter Amita Sharma. Well the Trump administration continues that honoris task of reunifying immigrant families that separated at the border reported this week that most have been reunited but the entire situation remains fraught and complicated. So Jean start with the news this week on reunification. Thursday was the big deadline for the government so that it might but I Blinda that more than hundred families were reunified. However it's very unclear given the numbers what's really going on because there's hundreds of people who are still unaccounted for. Many of the people who are deemed ineligible for relief Haitian and we don't quite know what criteria the government uses in all of those cases. And I think the most troubling thing is that more than 400 of the parents that were separated from their children are no longer in the United States and the government really doesn't know where they are. And so reunifying those families is going to be a huge challenge and there are currently nonprofits looking for these people in Central America but they many of them are in Mexico trying to make their way back to the United States to recover their children so they can be anywhere. So it's still a very fluid situation that the judge is having another hearing today. The news is going to continue on this story John. Many families from countries in Central America have been released usually with ankle monitors pending their asylum claims others remain in detention facilities. Why the difference there. Well a lot of it depends on what their case was where they were brought in. A lot of the individual agents who are dealing with them when their intake process happens a lot of this reunification is also happening in Texas it's not actually happening here in California to Jeanne's point. You know we went KQED went to Guatemala last week and we found really startling evidence of one case where a young boy who is separated from their parent started to believe he had a mental break six years old and he started to believe it was a dog because he was kept and what he considered to be like dog like conditions. We heard of other parents who were told that if they signed a piece of paper they would be reunified with their kids and ended up being deported and flown to Guatemala City. So there is a lot of questions to Jean's point not just about whether or why these deportations happened in the first place but then how the government's going to do that and on the call yesterday. The spokesman for ICE essentially said once somebody goes into another country we don't keep contact. We don't keep track. And it is going to be up to nonprofits and other people who are going to act on these children and these parents behalf. So to tie that into the question you asked me. It really is a case by case basis not just for who gets out who stays who ends up in detention who doesn't but also whether these reunifications happen. It's really really dependent on the personnel on the ground and the advocates and lawyers working with the with the families and all they say to get to your point about the effects of this that the trauma has been stark in some of these instances. And Jeanne can speak to this as well. Obviously in this case where a young boy believed you know had this mental break. This is an extreme case but overall we're seeing psychologists in Guatemala say they are receiving children who are having incredible mental and emotional breakdowns that they did not have before and these are kids who are coming from areas with 90 percent poverty rates employment around the same unemployment around the same lack of clean water or deadly violence. And this is what's breaking them according to the psychologists so there is something to be said about the toll this policy is taking on the people who are affected by it. So several hundred are I believe 700 more than 700 kids remain in custody. The U.S. government has missed deadlines on reunification. Are there any penalties any either. Is there a price to pay for not meeting these deadlines so the court can technically hold the government in contempt of court. But it doesn't look and given the tone of the proceedings it doesn't look like the judge is going to do that. Currently it seems like they're just going to be pressing for more transparency more information from the government if they don't need the deadline. They need to explain why Jean's absolutely right. And just to add to your point the judge Judge Danus Abrar has a real that's Harrod's and it has a real real tight pants lock because he his goal and he's made it really clear is the reunification. And so anything he does that could potentially punish the government or that could rankled the government's feathers could set forth the grounds for appeal and that will delay everything so you could tell that that's really on his mind this far as the proceedings have gone and his reaction overall was he's pleased with the progress so far. But that is what they'll say. What do you mean by pleased that he has pointed out it's deeply troubling and very upsetting that there is Wolf because it unpleasant unpleasant reality that there are so many people unaccounted for. So I guess go ahead. So we've heard this number 2500. You know ever since this sort of began but isn't the problem actually a lot larger than that. I mean are there other kids that have been separated over the years that under different circumstances I mean what I wonder is where do these kids go. I mean has has has the government just letting them go too into the community foster care. I mean why would they take responsibility for children. It's not the government is very weak. I mean it's just it's just one one. These families are reunified. There's this idea that finally like there's a happy ending there that the struggle is over. What everybody wants but it's completely the opposite. The attorneys have been talking about all the traumas that the families have have been dealing with. They are having trouble getting basic information out of these families because of the fact that just questioning them makes them start crying and the mere thought of being separated from their children again is so frightening to these people. Thousands percent right there are about 10000 kids who are in our custody who don't meet this class definition. But let's talk also about the parents. Many of the parents feel broken. They felt like they couldn't do you know they entered legally legally. They like they are seeking asylum. These aren't people who are crossing in the middle of the night. Some people have suggested all of them some of course have. But my point is is that many of these parents feel so humiliated at the end of it. I spoke to one parent from Los Angeles who was deported back to Guatemala. Again this is an extreme story. But he asked to use the restroom. It was a long it was about movement of ice would not uncuff him so that he can take care of the business that one has to do after making such movement and instead made him sit in his own fecal matter. This type of this is the allegation according to him. These are heavy allegations but they are consistent. And the idea is to essentially what's being taken away by the parents is that there's been a great loss of dignity and agency not just because of the disconnect with their children but because of the conditions that they were held in while they're in detention. The search for the parents has yet to be unified with their kids. What special tools are available for for these nonprofits to find them. Given that you know they're on a journey and then some of them come some really remote areas. Well just very briefly I was way way to Nago which is north of Guam Guatemala and I did not see the nonprofits but I saw private attorneys. These were private civil attorneys who sent investigators to these areas to try and locate parents because they're looking at class action suits financial suits. So and they've sent doctors and things like that now as far as they're not and they have had much better success than the nonprofits I'm aware of. I don't know if Jean has heard something different now. Last time I spoke to one of the attorneys at a non-profit they mentioned that they'd only been able to find about a dozen of these parents and the problem is that they need the information from the government and that the government hasn't provided complete information as to who it deported and where and to where. So this will go on for some time. We got a little time left in the segment and Jean the story has been relentless for immigration reporters you folks have been really busy. You've also been juggling the release of your book. Crux of cross-border memoirs or overlap between the two. Right. It's about my quest to understand my father who for a time I didn't know where he was. So I guess part of the overlap is simply that I as a journalist as well as from my own personal experiences and very familiar with the traumas associated with not knowing what happened to a parent not knowing where a parent is during during childhood and so I've been looking at several families who are dealing with these traumas after reunification. And the ACLU has been pushing for the judge to order some kind of mental health services for the government to provide mental health services for these families. But currently the families have no no services available to them to to deal with children who in some cases were kept in facilities that have since been closed for abuses ranging from inappropriate sexual contact with children to harsh punishment. And these mothers and fathers don't know how to help their children. And as we've said before the government is always a lousy parent and no matter what the situation in this country is someone who is in foster care can say that sometimes the government do the right thing. But to Jane's point I read Jean's book it's excellent. Everyone go by the book right now. But more to it it's really to me. I read it as something that was about a person looking for identity but also the identity of being a father from the identity of being a mother and Jean's book. And what we're seeing in this particular case is that the very core identity of fathers mothers children are being stripped from them. In the fallout of that is not something that we can sum up nicely for a roundtable segment. You know there will be plenty more reporting and it is no worse failing as a parent than failing to protect your child which is exactly what it is. All right. And we'll leave it there and be a lot more reporting on this as we go forward. A big story here across the southern United States an entire country actually. Well we're going to move on. Tension between San Diego county's housing crisis and the need for smart long term planning came into sharp sharp relief this week. County supervisors made tossed aside years of hard costly debate and planning in favor of fast tracking 10000 new homes. So Alison start with some of the context here. What are the supervisors control or what is the general plan for people who may not be familiar with it. Right. Basically San Diego is growing. You know it's undeniable there are more people being born and most of that growth is coming from our own children incidentally not from outside. And so the question is Where do you put the new houses and we all know about how the housing situation is desperate. So the pressure is on to find way to build. And what's been happening this week with the county starting this process of approving mass developments very large developments that will add hundreds of homes in North County and thousands of homes down in no time. So they're saying you know we're going to just have to give up the planning that we spent years and years doing with masses of input from the community and millions of dollars spent and the developers have come up with these master plan communities and we're we're just going to have to approve them. So the whole idea of developing more in the urban areas where you've got the infrastructure on avoiding sprawl you know is sort of disappearing under this pressure to build more houses. And it also means and what kind of homes how affordable are they. Wow. This is the thing none of these homes are what you would call affordable. They are probably I have seen some that are down as low as 400000 but most of them are 500 600 thousand seven or eight hundred thousand dollar homes. They are single family homes. And the developers are saying look the next generation want to raise their families in single family homes just like they did. They don't want to be living in urban apartments. I was in my neck of the woods right now we're seeing the red in fire the car fire just devastate an area and fortunately our cover the North Bay fires that were the deadliest fire in California history recorded history. What is being done in this plan to ensure that these sprawled out homes are going to be properly mitigated for wildfire right. Yeah you know we're that urban interface. Well the ones that were being talked about this week her are up just south of 6 76 and west of 50 and turning the corner west of of Escondido there in the hills by an area that's close to Elphin forest which is a beautiful reserve in a name we've heard a lot inflator coverage coverage. That's right. So that was what a lot of the testimony was about was people who live there who are like you know we've seen so many fires in this area. Many people have horses. The roads are not that big even though the developers will expand the roads. The number of people two to 3000 more people who would be trying to get out in the case of a wildfire. It doesn't look good. So what the fire department said was and they basically gave their blessing to this project and said we think it's OK. Is that when we had the 2007 wildfires we evacuated half a million people in San Diego. You may remember that he waved a white flag. We are not going to do that. We are going to be much more surgical. We're going to advise people where it's safe to remain in place there'll be a lot more sheltering in place in the case of a wildfire that the homes are more designed for wildfires which was surprising to me because I haven't actually heard this kind of fairly radical shift in policy from you know be ready to evacuate when we tell you to. Well you know there's going to have to be some people who shelter in place because the roads are just not take the number of people that will need to know that there's a big difference the reverse 9 or 1 Get out. Some people resist that. But when in doubt they get people out early. I think we need to talk a lot more about this if this is going to be the argument for why we can build more houses in these places where the infrastructure hasn't really been designed to meet there. That is correct. And right. We're seeing you know my colleagues have reported really clearly that there are traffic jams. We saw people who did not leave because they were in the north bay fires because they looked out and they saw that it was a mess. But I'll be ok. I'm really. And especially I heard one eyewitness described the Redding fire this week as a fire tornado that essentially the fire just exploded. The coroner whether you're talking about it or of Escondido it's very similar to that kind of area. Yeah. Yeah. So for both of those reasons the fact that there's years of planning are disappearing that none of these houses are going to be affordable and but it really does raise concerns about you know the growing risk of wildfire to our urban interface. And we mentioned at the outset the developers are working to get around the rules because the general plan says you know these are restricted areas how are they doing. Well basically they're granting waivers and they're saying the general plan is not cast in stone. It has to rise to meet the occasion and it's true. We do need more housing. But the question is the community had said you can build housing but build it over here not here and now instead of building where the community has said that they were willing to accept more housing and that the regional planners have built more roads. The developers are going for the bigger empty lots where there isn't a lot of infrastructure and the land is cheaper because it's not zoned for housing and saying Here we can provide you hundreds of homes over here. We know it's not according to your plan but you know the land was cheap and you know the fire department is signing off on it. So I think it it's it's a question in many people's minds. I know a couple of the supervisors have asked Why are developers not building in the areas where our community said you could build some developers are but there are smaller developments and I think perhaps the profits are less big and maybe there are not a lot of the smaller developers that you need to take up these infill projects so that the developers who have the most resources and want the biggest profits they want these larger areas that were not zoned for development. Now the big part of the general plan was as you said we're trying to cut down on sprawl which goes to driving and pollution and climate. We do have a bite here from the spokesman for the San Diego Climate Action Campaign set that up. Yes so Nicole capretto who of course is a hero in this region for having for setting climate action goals and she's defending the job she is defending and a general plan and is very concerned the way it's being dismissed. Let's hear that for anyone to suggest that the general plan of a bad plan is denying 10 years. Of diligence and thoughtful consideration that went into designing and developing a plan and it was good for amongst all the stakeholders that we're creating the housing that we needed and that we were creating the transportation infrastructure that we needed. All right about that time in this segment what's the timetable we're going to have a series of hearings on whether these waivers will be granted. There's two more hearings coming up and another 5000 homes that would be built or could be built if in fact they grant these waivers just in the next three. OK. A follow up on that and we'll be talking about that in the summer to come here. Well what does it say about the California dream of couples. Couples postpone having kids because they can't afford them. The nation's birth rate is dropping and it's dropping even faster in California and with a start there what are the current birth rate numbers that are really low. Well I to give you two sets of numbers. One side is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and that agency came out with numbers that basically said that California's birthrate is the lowest it's been since the Great Depression. It is at eleven point nine babies per thousand people. It was at thirteen point one babies per thousand people back in the Great Depression. Just to give you a little bit of context. And it was that 21 babies per thousand people. Just as recently as 1990 the California Department of Finance does a different calculation. They say that right now we're at one point seventy six babies per woman and that it hasn't been this close since the mid 1970s when baby boomer girls and women were going high school going to college and getting into the workforce and then delaying giving birth first Yeager's. So the so the birth rate dipped a little bit in the mid 1970s but then it shot back up and below the replacement value right. Right. But it shot back up in the late 70s 80s and 90s and the replacement of two point one. So right now we are below the replacement level. OK. So this I mean this raises all sorts of questions. The basic one is of course why. Well I should say that across the United States the birth rate is also dropping it's at one point two children per woman right now. As I said in California at one point seventy six And the difference between the rest of the country and California is surprising. Housing just we're talking the cost of the housing. The National Bureau of Economics did a study back in 2016 and estimated that for every ten thousand dollar increase in home prices the fertility rate dropped to two point four percent. And what's kind of interesting is and that was for non home owners among home owners the fertility rate actually shot at point eight percent. So there seems to be a connection but I think there are other factors so the overall argument is that you know society is asking a heck of a lot of people who are between the ages of 25 and 35 who graduate from college. You've got to build a career. You have to help pay down astronomical loans student loans have to find a mate. You have to buy a house with a huge mortgage and high property taxes and a lot of people are saying well OK I'm not having kids. On top of that or I'm not going to have kids until I feel settled into this this financial stuff. So a lot of times it's just too late for people to conceive. And then some people are saying well if I have a kid I'm only having one. What's the ballpark cost on having a child born today and to raise a kid. So the USDA the Department of Agriculture estimates is that it's a little bit over two hundred thirty three thousand dollars per kid between 0 and 18. That doesn't include college dollars. Yeah but in California it's like 250000 dollars. Some people I spoke to one financial planner and he said it's probably actually way more in certain parts of the state. So that's a nice segue into Sumba. We have interviewed a professor of urban planning and demography at the University of Southern California. Myers let's hear a bit of that interview and what this means to kids aren't really all for you. Those kids are important for all of us because those are our future taxpayers. And workers and homebuyers. And if you don't have those kids I mean who's going to buy my house. Who's going to pay the taxes for me my old age yeah who's going to cover Social Security and Medicare and everything else. Immigration has caught on well and I want to come back to immigration. Immigration is really an interesting component in this discussion because a quarter of the babies born in this country have at least one parent as an immigrant. So you take away that one parent and you might have a quarter of babies in the state of California. 50 percent of the babies being born have at least one parent as an immigrant. So immigration immigrants have been a big help in terms of keeping the birth rates up for us because you know in Western Europe and places where the housing is subsidized we're still seeing a decline that there is there is there is no doubt that the economic correlation. There's also an educational correlation there is there is a strong correlation so I'm kind of curious A. Are we making a bigger deal out of this than it is just because this could potentially indicate that California has reached a mature level of society and also is there any one of the things that these Western European countries do things like have specials like they'll give free vacations to couples who go out and essentially conceive a baby. You know those calm kids vacations or whatever they've done all these kinds of incentives to try and promote people having romantic relations. So I'm wondering if anything is going on. My answer will be a bit of a two parter. OK. So the demographer whom you just heard Adele Meyers he says from an economic point of view we need those kids. I mean we need the tax base and we should be doing everything we can to boost the birth rate. However if we're not going to do that then we need to maximize the value from the kids that we have already like we need to get twice what we're getting out of them right now. We need to get twice as much. And the way to do that is to ensure that we're helping them get through college and that and that we're even helping them get graduate degrees because studies show the more education you have the higher paying job you're going to get and the more tax dollars you're going to pay. So if we're going to keep the birth rates low then we need to have super educated super successful people as our tax base. The other part of that is a real valid point. I mean studies show that the more educated a woman is the fewer kids she's likely to have in California according to this demographer was he says was relying on immigrants especially Latino women to make up the difference. Back in 1970 they were having five point eight kids per woman. Now their numbers have also dropped to two. So it's slightly above that going to raise it. But you know birth rates have gone down with black people with Asian people white people and Latino women. So the belief is is that education is the reason. All right well fascinating discussion. I'm sorry we're out of time but all sorts of good things to follow up on in the coming weeks and that does wrap up another week of stories at the PBS roundtable. I'd like to thank my guest Jean girl of CBS News John Spoleto of the California Report. Alison St. John and Meeth Sharma also of Cape CBS News. And a reminder all of the stories we discuss today are available on our Web site K.P. B.S. dot o r g. Mark Sauer thanks for being with us today. And please join us again next week on the roundtable.

Deadline For Family Reunifications

Another deadline passed this week to reunite immigrant families that were separated while attempting to enter the United States. The latest court-ordered action involves children age five and older. Hundreds of parents have been deported without their children. Meanwhile, Senator Dianne Feinstein is raising concerns about poor conditions at immigrant holding facilities.

RELATED: Where Are The Parents Who Were Separated From Their Children And Removed From US?

Building More Homes

A key factor in San Diego’s housing crisis is a lack of supply. Developers say they’re ready to build, but the projects are in unincorporated areas not zoned for home construction. In the coming weeks, the county will decide whether to grant waiver requests that would lead to thousands of new homes. Critics say doing so would abandon a long-term plan for sustainable growth.

RELATED: San Diego County Fast-Tracks Waivers To General Plan For New Housing

California’s Shrinking Birth Rate

California’s birth rate recently fell to a record low. Demographers point to the high cost of housing as the primary factor and warn that fewer births will have serious long-term economic consequences. The California Dream public media collaboration met a family from Oceanside that decided to move to Riverside County to better afford raising a child.

RELATED: Median Home Price In San Diego County Hits $575K