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Few Migrants Win Asylum Under Remain In Mexico Policy, Meth’s Grip In San Diego, Social Equity In The Cannabis Industry, And The Benefits Of Connecting With Animals

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Trump’s Remain In Mexico policy has had a chilling effect for those seeking asylum. Nearly all have had their claims denied. Plus, while most of the country is in the midst of an opioid crisis, San Diego’s meth problem persists. Also, San Diego is considering a program to help communities most affected by the war on drugs share in the profits of legalized cannabis. But can it work? And, nearly 15 years after coining the term nature-deficit disorder, San Diego author Richard Louv is out with a new book that explores how animal connections can be transformative for both humans and animals.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 It was about one year ago when the Trump administration instituted the so called remain in Mexico program where people seeking asylum must wait in Mexico until their cases are adjudicated. Another policy and asylum ban makes non Mexican asylum seekers ineligible for asylum unless they first applied in another country. The administration says the changes in policy were needed because the system for processing asylum was being overwhelmed, but human rights groups say the policies essentially mean virtually no one is being granted asylum in the U S joining us to talk about the situation is San Diego union Tribune reporter Gustava solace and Gustavo welcome. Well, thank you Jane. Before the remain in Mexico policy was adopted, thousands of people were being granted asylum. How does the administration defendant's current policy,

Speaker 2: 00:50 well, I think you explained it pretty well in the opening there, right? The explanation from the Trump administration is that a lot of people use the asylum process to file illegitimate asylum claims, get into the country and then just not follow up and ignore their court dates and use false claims as a vehicle for becoming undocumented citizens.

Speaker 1: 01:12 The numbers of people being granted asylum just last year differ greatly from the 2019 numbers. Can you contrast those two sets of numbers?

Speaker 2: 01:21 Yeah, it can. It is really, really startling. The numbers and historically most people who apply for asylum don't get it right. We have numbers from 2018, uh, about 20% of the applicants actually received asylum, about 50% were denied and the other, um, you know, 40 or so were dismissed. Um, so compare that 20% grant rate from last year and what we've noticed with remained in Mexico is that they have a 0.1% grant rate. A total of 11 people have gotten it. So it's virtually nothing.

Speaker 1: 01:58 Nothing. Yeah. Human rights groups say there are a number of problems with the remain in Mexico policy. Those problems include migrants being attacked, robbed, raped, and even killed. Can you tell us more about that?

Speaker 2: 02:11 Right. Well, Mexico is a dangerous place, particularly some of the border towns in Mexico. And it's important to know that what this policy does is that it forces asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases are adjudicated. In the U S and those cases take eight months to a year to be completed. So you're asking people to live in Mexican border towns, which are very dangerous. And these people who are asylum seekers are almost by definition, very vulnerable already. And now the program remade in Mexico is officially called migrant protection protocols, but advocates don't like using that name because as far as they see on the ground, there are very few protections in in that program. And the U S government has said a CBP have said that the protection part of it is supposed to come from Mexico. So the U S is not responsible for any of the protections outside of the border. Mexico is. But what we're seeing on the ground is that there are very few, if any protections.

Speaker 1: 03:12 What has been the reaction of the Mexican government to the Trump administration's policies?

Speaker 2: 03:17 Hmm. I think it's been sort of different reactions. Right? At the federal level, they are agreeing with some of the policies, right? They're accepting people back through the program. At the local level. In Tijuana, there's been some pushback because local residents there don't want a large amount of migrants staying there indefinitely. Um, there has been a little bit of pushback from the Mexican government in terms of the types of migrants who are sent back and there have been reports of the Mexican government refusing migrants back if they don't have future court dates. For example. [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 03:53 in your article you profiled one migrant in particular a man you called Brian. Can you tell us about his story? Yeah, I think Brian's story is really helped

Speaker 2: 04:02 full and understanding, not just remain in Mexico, but all of the asylum changes that have happened in the last year. Brian is a, is a man from Honduras who fled gang violence and arrived to Tijuana last year with the central American migrant caravan. So he arrived to the border in November, 2018. Um, but he was forced to wait about three months before he actually had a chance to present himself at the border. Uh, that's through a process called metering, which is also fairly controversial and it's a subject of federal lawsuits. Uh, metering says that the U S government will turn people back from the border and make them wait, sign their name on a list and wait two to three months until they get in. The reasoning behind that is that there's a limited amount of space in detention facilities or processing centers. So the government has to, because of logistical reasons, manage the amount of people that get in. For Brian, that meant that he arrived in November but didn't get into January and by January remained in Mexico was in effect. So he was one of the first people who was returned under that policy. You know, had he arrived a month earlier, he probably would have been in the U S so I think that's why his story is very compelling

Speaker 1: 05:21 in, in all of your reporting on this particular subject. Um, is there any solution that you see?

Speaker 2: 05:29 I don't want to be grim, but no. Um, there are, I guess it's important to know that the, almost all of the policies are subject to federal lawsuits. So depending on how that goes are some of them are on due process grounds. Some of them are on constitutional grounds. So depending on how the courts decide, uh, the policies themselves could go away. Um, but if the policy is continued to be implemented, I don't see a change in grant. I mean, part of the reason, and I think one of the biggest obstacles and remain in Mexico is the lack of access that migrants have to attorneys. And that's because if you're an immigration lawyer based in the U S like why would you take on a pro bono case when your client is in, he won. It takes all day to schedule an appointment and go to a hearing and do consultings over there.

Speaker 2: 06:17 And when you're doing that, you have to ignore all your other work here in the U S so there's very few lawyers who will do that and there's a lot of migrants who need that help. So without access to attorneys, your odds of getting a positive versus what's in your asylum case are great, really greatly diminished. Uh, and if there's no change there, then I don't see a reason to believe that the grant rates are going to improve. I've been speaking with union Tribune reporter Gustavo's Selise Gustavo, thank you very much for joining us. Oh, thank you. Jane.

Speaker 1: 00:01 California's legal cannabis industry is lucrative and growing, but it's also hyper competitive as part of our series high hopes, California's pod experiment. KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen says some of San Diego leaders want to carve out space in the industry for folks with a specific disadvantage.

Speaker 2: 00:19 We're walking into our cultivation rooms. Room one is struck would be structured here. Chauncey Bullock is showing me around a giant room in an industrial area of South central Los Angeles. It's bare and empty, but she's got plans for a premium cannabis cultivation facility. You have to create that outdoor environment inside, so how do you do that? You do it. She says with equipment to control humidity, temperature and ventilation and that to security improvements and she's got a long list of expensive renovations to turn this building into a profitable business. She says this industry is not for the weak of heart. Oh wow. You know, it's been a roller coaster ride. It took forever over a year actually to actually get into this space. Bullock had got her cultivation permit through the city of Las cannabis equity program, which offers expedited permitting to people who meet certain criteria.

Speaker 2: 01:11 The state awarded LA one point $8 million as part of an incentive program established by the legislature. Full equity was set up to help those that were hit hard by the war on drugs or for those that had a cannabis conviction. I had just happened to have a cannabis conviction from this bullets. Conviction was for operating an unlicensed medical dispensary. She had to pay fines and got three years of probation. Now she's trying to do things by the book. We are trying to use some of this new opportunity through raw legalized recreational marijuana and some of the revenues that come from that industry to be able to reinvest in communities that have been harmed from the criminalization of marijuana in history. San Diego city Councilman Chris ward is working on a cannabis equity program in San Diego, but he hasn't gotten very far. He and other advocates face critics who say, these programs are akin to helping convicted drug dealers sell more drugs where it says that logic ignores the fact that while whites and blacks used marijuana at roughly equal rates, blacks have been far more likely to be arrested for it.

Speaker 2: 02:15 He says now, even though pot is legal, minority communities are still on the losing end right now the only individuals who are at the front of the line are those who are predominantly white with access to capital, uh, and with access to cash. And so we've got a lot of challenges there just structurally that are necessarily leaving some individuals who want to be competitive business owners as well. Uh, in a disadvantage. How's everybody doing? Me? I've got to get some energy going. I know it's late at night, which I got to wake up a little bit. How, how's everybody doing? Jay Bowzer is cofounder and CFO of paving great futures, a nonprofit in Southeast San Diego. The teachers job skills and financial literacy. He's giving a pep talk to an evening class of formerly incarcerated young adults. How y'all doing man? Let me say, say what a chest bouncer is.

Speaker 2: 03:06 One of San Diego's biggest advocates for a cannabis equity program. He says the industry wouldn't be what it is today without the innovation and entrepreneurship of communities of color. Well, I mean, you've got to think about it. If our communities have been persecuted before in a war on drugs for decades, I mean, we pretty much pioneered it. So how can the industry that our community's pioneered now that it's legal, we be locked out of it. Right? Right now San Diego has fewer than 20 legal cannabis shops open for business and only about a dozen more permits to offer thanks to a citywide cap competition to enter the legal market is fierce. Bouncer says for an equity program to succeed, San Diego has to rethink its regulations. There definitely have to change the distance. Right now I believe it's like a thousand feet from churches and daycare schools and things of that nature. Um, so we maybe you can lower it to 600 and you know that that will open up some licensed, but you just can't make it easier to get in.

Speaker 2: 03:57 And then those same folks that have beginning, they're just going to kind of sweep it up. Ward says he's open to changing the city's cannabis regulations but hasn't seen much political will from the mayor's office or his council colleagues. He plans on continuing the push for a cannabis equity program in the coming year. You're joining me now is KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Andrew, welcome. Thanks Jane. So we just heard about Ellie's equity program and your story. Tell us more about what San Diego council members, ward and Montgomery have in mind for an equity program here in San Diego. Chris ward and Monica Montgomery have met with some folks in their districts and asked them what they would like to see in a San Diego cannabis equity program. And I think what they ended up with was a fairly long list. You know, they have ideas of giving grants or funding for youth programs to nonprofits or violence prevention initiatives in communities that have been harmed in some way by the war on drugs.

Speaker 2: 04:54 I think it's fairly well documented through the past several decades that you know, these long prison sentences that were pretty common practice in earlier years had really bad impacts on folks, family situations, a negative impacts on those communities as a whole. So that's certainly something that the community wants to see. However, that is, um, something that is fairly unique to the dis cannabis equity discussion in San Diego. So I think that the vision in San Diego is pretty ambitious and given the problems that we've seen in other cities, um, complaints of underfunding, uh, cannabis equity programs, you know, that's something that San Diego will have to think carefully about what they can really afford to do and that what they'll have the capacity to do access to capital is one of the biggest barriers for some people. Does their proposal address that issue at all? It doesn't address it directly, I would say.

Speaker 2: 05:44 But we should also note that the status of the equity program idea right now is very much in the idea phase. Um, there have been some discussions happening at the city council committee level, um, and they've directed the city attorney's office and the independent budget analysts to um, you know, draft some language for a council policy that would create a cannabis equity program and, um, figure out, you know, what type of funding levels other cities have created and what the city of San Diego would need. Um, but really to define exactly what the equity program would be and what kind of types of things would be a part of that program that has to come out, um, through the sausage making process that happens at the council and, um, and the committees in your reporting, you found that San Diego's land use rules may also pose a hurdle.

Speaker 2: 06:32 Why would reforming cannabis regulations be important there? Well, if the goal of the cannabis equity program is to help these disadvantaged groups build their own cannabis businesses and share in the profits from, from legalization, then there have to be rules on the books that allow those businesses to be created. Right now, San Diego has issued all 40, uh, permits, the maximum cap of permits under the municipal code for marijuana production facilities. Those are the businesses that run the supply chain. Basically they grow the marijuana, they manufactured into different types of products and then distribute it to the different dispensaries throughout the state. So they're under the rules right now. There is no opportunity for creating additional cultivation businesses, manufacturing, et cetera. Um, the city allows only for permits for retail dispensary's and each city council districts. So a citywide cap of 36, and uh, there's this, um, 1000 foot separation requirement from churches, schools, parks, um, other types of what they're called sensitive uses.

Speaker 2: 07:33 And so the city at this point has really reached a market saturation of, for cannabis businesses under the curler current rules that exist. What the folks that I spoke with for this story said is that the city can't just create an equity program and not allow more legal cannabis businesses to exist in San Diego. The demand is there. We know that there's a huge illicit market in San Diego and in many other parts of the state. And so the question really is, can the city craft cannabis regulations where they strike that balance, where they're respecting the concerns of communities and, um, you know, limiting access for children, but also where there are enough legal stores and businesses to, to meet the demand of the market. I've been speaking with KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Andrew. Thank you. Thank you, Jade. Each day this week we'll be bringing you a new story about the impact of cannabis legalization. To see all the stories in our series go to kpbs.org/pot.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Most of us relate to animals through our experiences with pets when it comes to wild animals, maybe visits to the zoo or for those who can afford it, a Safari or other excursion with guides in the wild, but the fact is we coexist with animals in our increasingly threatened planet and there are lots of benefits of those relationships. That's the message in the new book, our wild calling, how connecting with animals can transform our lives and save theirs by San Diego. Author Richard lube. He joined KPBS round table host Mark Sauer to discuss his book.

Speaker 2: 00:34 We spent four years researching and writing this book. I start with your original idea, what it just set out to do here.

Speaker 3: 00:39 Well, this is a a lesson in never write a book based on a feeling I had a feeling, which is I'd done a bunch of books on the, what I called, nature deficit disorder, last child in the woods and all of that, but I was on an Island on Kodiak Island one day when my son and I was walking along a trail and us and a Fox, a big Fox. These are the largest foxes in the world or some of the largest, stopped me dead in my tracks. I was glad it was a Fox because I should have been looking up. I was counting my money for the tip for my son who was my guide because there's a lot of Alaskan Brown bears there. And I looked in this Fox's eyes. He wasn't moving and I thought, is this guy rabbit? Am I in trouble? The whole book is, it's very difficult to explain what people feel when they have that kind of encounter and what that is. And I collected hundreds of stories from people who had had similar encounters or relationships with wild animals or domestic animals over time.

Speaker 2: 01:40 Well, that there are, as you mentioned this and I segue into my next question. There's a number of transformative encounters between people and wild creatures in the book. Give us a couple of examples that really stand out to you.

Speaker 3: 01:50 Well, one of them is Paul Deighton oceanographer at Scripps institution of oceanography. One of the great guys ever. He was on the bottom of the ocean once when he was a student and he was collecting samples and he felt something very large come above him and stop. And he looked up and he saw a big tentacle coming down. Then another tentacle, and this was a 12 foot long, a wingspan of a octopus, one of the giant octopuses. And it came down and got him and he couldn't get out of its grip. And without going all the detail, he kicked off the bottom as best as he could. And they went up and up in the spiral of water. And as they did, the octopus moved around, uh, Paul's body and he could feel the razor sharp beak on his neck as it moved around. I mean, this animal could have killed him.

Speaker 3: 02:37 Oh yeah, yeah. And at some point, as they were going up in the water, he says, Paul said, we made a nonaggression pact. Right? Then they hit the surface, both of them, and he ripped off his mass because he had realized at the bottom that he was almost out of oxygen and he's looking down into the water under the surface and here's that octopus still looking at him and then it turns around in, it disappears into the darkness. What does Paul do? This is the best part of story. What does Paul do? He puts the mass back on and he chases the octopus back down into the, why did you do that, Paul? And he said, he doesn't know. He just didn't want that moment to end.

Speaker 2: 03:14 Yeah, and you've got a number of, of those kinds of encounters in the book where people look an animal in the eye, and these are wild animals and some of them are deadly animals. You know, you've got, you talk about a, a polar bear is tracking a pair of women, experienced, very experienced women way out on the ice, and this is the deadliest of the bears. Of course, they didn't want to shoot it. They had a gun and could have shot it, but they didn't. And they just engaged and it worked out for them.

Speaker 3: 03:39 And it doesn't always work out. I mean, I'm not saying that nature is safe. I never say that. In fact, that's one of its attractions. One of the reasons that this has an effect on people's physical health, mental health, even cognitive functioning is because of all, when we feel all, it's usually because we've stepped out of our comfort zone and it often involves danger. This all I think is essential for the development of our children, for our feeling fully alive. Uh, and that's what people describe again and again, even if they were scared, in fact, sometimes, especially if they are scared

Speaker 2: 04:15 now, you write about a kind of magic that sometimes happens in these encounters that we're talking about. And I want to quote your wonderful line here that whisper of recognition between two beings when time seems to stop. And what do you mean by that? How are the, the experience described by the people who've had them this magic?

Speaker 3: 04:33 Um, Martin Boober on always have to be careful not to say Justin Bieber. Uh, Martin Boober the great, um, uh, philosopher, uh, wrote a great essay called [inaudible]. He said that you and I don't really exist. What exists is right here in between us. It's the relationship. He considered that a kind of electricity that some people call God whether you're religious or not. Many people who are not religious in this book have felt that. So in the book, I call that the habitat of the heart. And I think there are two habitats. There's the physical habitat that many of us work very, very hard as we should to protect. And then there's this other habitat, the habitat of the heart. We don't hardly do anything to protect and nurture that in our kids or in ourselves. Here's the deal. If one of those habitats goes, so does the other one, we've got to start paying attention to that because what we're doing now isn't working. Recent studies show that almost a third of songbirds in the United in North America have disappeared since 1970. You know, what are we doing? What are we so, so clearly treating animals as data is not working. We have to make this deeper connection.

Speaker 2: 05:43 Well, that brings me to the question I have on the climate crisis. Of course it imperils all living things, you know, to world wildlife fund report showing wildlife population shrunk by 60% worldwide over the past half century. Alarming die offs. A birds, as you mentioned here, constantly making news. You've got a proposal that some, certainly the dwindling number of climate skeptics would see as radical. Explain how you'd like to see the earth divided.

Speaker 3: 06:08 Uh, well there's a couple of radical ideas in that. One I think you're referring to is half earth now. Uh, EO Wilson has written a book about that. He didn't come up with that concept. Basically, in order to preserve the biodiversity we need for our survival on this planet, we need to have about half of earth set aside for, for awhile wildness. That doesn't mean the Northern hemisphere and the Southern hemisphere. That means that there'll be a kind of a checkerboard, hopefully connected with wildlife corridors and all of that. Not necessarily excluding people. The Adirondack park in New York is a great example. How people brought back that forest after had been decimated by logging. They still live there in small hamlets. It's a different kind of distribution of population and they make their living there. It's not impossible. Make your living in a place like that. We need that, but we need a lot more cities.

Speaker 3: 07:00 As of 2008 more people in the world live in cities than in the countryside. Huge moment in human history. We don't talk about very much right now. Wild animals are moving into cities in very large numbers. We're moving into their territory, but they're moving in with us too. What are we going to do about that? We got a choice. Either we're going to exterminate all those animals coming in or we're going to love them. We're going to learn to coexist with them. Uh, one of the ideas is to create a wildlife, uh, watch groups, which are kind of like neighborhood watch, but you know, the parents and the kids and the, and the, and the uh, uh, retirees at the corner would watch the animals that are coming in and moving out as climate change chases, uh, changes as well as the domestic animals. They do two things. One is that they protect people from the aggressive animals and they would teach your neighbors don't feed the animals for example, for example. The other thing they would do is learn about those animals and have a relationship with those animals and deepen their lives. Steve deep in their sense of being alive.

Speaker 2: 08:06 Now those running for president, at least the Democrats have plans to address the climate crisis. What do you think we need to do at least start doing to protect humanism and animals? How do we get people to see that damage to the earth is indeed damage to ourselves?

Speaker 3: 08:20 I think what I said earlier about data, about, uh, too often this is treated as numbers and I think we need to start paying attention to the habitat of the heart. I don't think anybody protects anything unless they love it. And we need to learn to do that. And our kids in our schools need to do that. And there's this great payoff. Our lives become much richer when we do that.

Speaker 2: 08:43 Right? And if we're not good stewards of the earth for our sake and all other living things, uh, then game over really.

Speaker 3: 08:49 Right. And it's touch and go as to whether it's too late or not. You know, I, I do a lot of speaking around the country and I, a lot of college students I've met, one young woman leaned across this table to me and she said, Mr. Lewis, I'm 20 years old in all my life I've been told it's too late. You know, Martin Luther King said and demonstrated that any movement, any culture will fail if it cannot paint a picture of a world that people will want to go to. We haven't been doing that. Most of our images of the future look a lot like blade runner and mad max. And at best the hunger games at least there's a few trees. Unless we change those images and we can do this, there's incredible ideas out there, incredible stuff happening that we don't see because certain people in high office have taken over the airways at this moment. We didn't see it before either and it's especially cute now and our profession, Mark journalism needs to pay more attention to those images of what a good future could be.

Speaker 1: 09:50 Well, I've been speaking with Richard [inaudible], author of our wild calling, how connecting with animals can transform our lives and save theirs. Thanks very much.

Speaker 3: 09:58 Well, thanks Mark. Good. See and again,

Speaker 1: 10:00 Richard lube will be speaking at 6:30 PM today at the Casa Del Prado in Balboa park. More information about the event and an interview with lube about reducing nature deficit can be found@kpbs.org and you're listening to KPBS mid day edition.

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KPBS Midday Edition is a daily talk show hosted by Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon, keeping San Diegans in the know on everything from politics to the arts.