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Turmoil At The Border

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A national outcry over conditions at an immigration detention center for children, San Diego mayoral candidates spar over plans for more housing, and election reforms are leading to more diversity in some local governments.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:01 Disturbing reports from child detention centers, tragic drownings along the Rio Grande. The humanitarian crisis at the border leads Congress to take action. The coming for our homes, how those five words started a new divisive chapter in the race for San Diego. Mayor and local cities are changing the way they elect their leaders, but it hasn't always led to more diversity in government. I'm mark Sauer. The KPBS round table starts now.

Speaker 2: 00:35 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 00:39 welcome to our discussion to the weak stop stories. I'm mark Sauer and joining me at the KPBS round table today. Kate Morrissey, who covers immigration and the border for the San Diego Union Tribune. Scott Lewis, editor in chief of Voice of San Diego and KPBS investigative reporter Claire Traeger, sir. Well, the photograph is shocking and horribly sad and a warning to our TV audience. It is disturbing.

Speaker 1: 01:04 This week, this image reveal to the nation and the world the true nature of our humanitarian crisis at the border. The bodies of a young Salvadoran father and his two year old daughter faces down on the bank of the Rio Grande River, drowned in their desperation to cross from metamorris Mexico to Brownsville, Texas. The girl's head is tucked in her father's shirt and attempt to keep her with him against the river, current her arms around his neck. And Kate start with the desperation that causes some families like this one to risk their lives to reach the u s and ask for asylum.

Speaker 3: 01:38 So for families who are coming from what we call the northern triangle countries, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, a lot of what they're fleeing is, um, gang-related violence areas where, um, a gang has, has taken control of, of an area and said, you know, if you're going to operate a business in this area, you have to pay us money. If you don't pay us that money will kill you or will kill your brother or your child. Um, there's also a lot of violence against women coming from those gangs. So when some case it's, it's a more particular kind of violence that, that the women are fleeing. Um, we do also see some folks fleeing because they've been a part of say, um, counter government protests in Honduras. Um, we also see people fleeing, um, rural areas of Guatemala that are particularly affected by, by droughts and, and I saw a story recently about the drop in coffee prices for example, and how that's affecting certain farmers. So, so the climate crisis plays into this too. Yeah. It's a whole conglomerate of issues that are making it very difficult for people to feel like they can survive where they're from. And so they're, they're coming here

Speaker 1: 02:43 and the, uh, this, this image we started with here, uh, certainly got a tremendous, uh, play. It's, it's tragic, it's disturbing, but four more bodies were found that same day on Sunday, 55 miles west along that same river toddler to infants, 20 year old woman a, these tragedies finally piercing the political noise and fog regarding the surge of Central American families coming up.

Speaker 3: 03:05 We certainly have seen a lot of attention on the issue this week. It's something that sort of in, in terms of public perception, ebbs and flows. If you think back to last summer when, when the public was very concerned about the family separations that were happening at the border, there was a lot of conversation about, um, the conditions that people were in and the conditions, um, for somebody trying to cross the border and how dangerous it was. And, and we're seeing a lot of that conversation again, sort of particularly focused around his photograph. Um, I think, you know, the particular circumstances of the family in the photograph, um, have led to some increased conversation about the metering policy that a lot of folks who are more deeply involved in the immigration conversation have been having. How, um, metering is the process of, of keeping only allowing a certain number of asylum seekers to enter ports of entry on any given day. And so other folks are first forced to wait in Mexico for four months at a time. And this family was one of those families that eventually decided, you know, instead of continuing to wait here, let's try crossing the river and seeing if we can make our asylum request more quickly that way. And so, you know, we've, we've heard about a number of people choosing to make that decision and this was the, the outcome for this family and that's, that's made this, this issue a lot more visible.

Speaker 4: 04:20 Well, just to put a point on that, we had a reporter of my history of Christian who went to Honduras for a week and when she came back I asked her what, you know was the major feelings she got. What was the, what kind of a big takeaway? And She described this pervasive sense of insecurity, this constant tension in Honduras, in San Pedro Sula where she was of just this, um, just constant fear, whether it was people who were protesting or whether it was people just, uh, on the streets or people who were thinking of leaving. Uh, she's collected a lot of vignettes. They're on the site. But that fear, uh, I think is, is can't be understated about how much of a driver that is. And you say, well, why are they doing this? Why are they crossing? It's the desperation is just acute.

Speaker 5: 05:05 Yeah. Well, I'm so glad she did that because I feel like there isn't enough attention being paid to what is, you know, the root cause. What is driving people to come to the border and then make these decisions. Yeah.

Speaker 1: 05:17 Well I'm glad you brought that up because I don't jump ahead to another question. I had two democratic debates this week. One answer from Bernie Sanders and four hours of debates about getting at root causes and here's part of what he said. What we have to do on day one is invite the presidents and leadership of Central America and Mexico together. This is a hemisphere problem. We don't seem to get that. I mean we were talking before the show on, we get slices and we're going to talk about specific things and the problems in Clint Texas this week at the trial detention center, but we don't seem to get a lot on this whole step back. Let's address this regionally.

Speaker 3: 05:51 Well, I think we do here, here some reverberations of that. Particularly when you look at the criticism that's happened when the Trump administration took money away from the support that it was going to those countries to try and do something about the violence there. You know, we do see the critics saying, why are you taking away this money? That is, you know, if we're, if we're going to do something about this issue, we need to look at what's going on in these countries trying to address the root cause of the problem. So you do hear those voices, but I don't know that it's necessarily in the, in the main spotlight of the conversation right now. I do think it's interesting that, um, when Amarillo was running for president of Mexico, he was, he was having a very similar conversation about wanting to, to bring together, um, voices and really look at was what, what was going on in these countries. Um, but since he's, he's come into office, we've seen him sort of bending to the Trump administration's wishes a lot more than actually pushing that conversation forward.

Speaker 4: 06:51 Yeah. I the debate too there, last night there was a big discussion about who, what allies would you repair relations with. And only one of the candidates mentioned anything about Latin America and nobody mentioned Mexico or Canada. The N in, yeah, we've got a convene. We, this is our backyard and the problems there, the climate change, the violence, the instability like that is not going to get better by just ignoring it. And so, um, hopefully there'll be some awakening to, regardless of your political perspective, this needs to be addressed in a more comprehensive manner.

Speaker 1: 07:24 And we did see, as I mentioned the outset and Congress finally did act this week with four plus a billion dollars, uh, to, uh, go to the border to, uh, going to be spent on a lot of things. But the prominent news story about squalid conditions in a federal facility facility and in Clint, Texas, uh, these sorts of things. Do they motivate the public to say, Hey, let's do something. Let's get the debate going. This is important.

Speaker 3: 07:47 Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't, I think is the short answer to it. I think with the, the combination of that report coming out with the photograph, um, has really motivated a lot more public discourse than sometimes happens when we hear reports about these conditions. This report is one of the, um, probably more critical ones that, that I've seen what we do. We do have these reports that come out periodically from this court settlement about the conditions that children are held in, in immigration related facilities. And you know, we have heard, um, criticisms coming out from, from the findings that these lawyers have when they go in about everything from whether or not they're provided soap to what the food is like to how long they're being held there. And like I said, the, this particular report seems to be a more severe, um, version of what we've heard, but it's by no means the first time we've heard some of these criticisms, you know, I think back even to a report that came out of staffers from Feinstein's office, um, a little while back now that made some of these same findings in, in border patrol facilities locally here along the California border.

Speaker 1: 08:54 And that was my next question. Haven't heard as much here as we have in places like Texas.

Speaker 3: 08:57 Well, and I think, I think part of that is because, you know, when you look at the sheer numbers of people crossing, Texas is getting a lot more crossers than, than we are. So their facilities have a lot more people and when you have more people, there's uh, you know, it exacerbates things that are going on perhaps. Um, we had a video, a video a couple of weeks ago and one of my stories showing what it looks like inside one of the holding cells in Sandy's theadreaux that we were able to obtain. And um, you know, at the time the video was taken, there were only a couple of people in, in the cell. But what we learned is that, you know, quite, quite a few more people were held in a, in a cell similar to like similar to that for, for quite a period of time. There was a group of people in the remain in Mexico program who were held at the San Ysidro Port of entry for about 20 days or, or close to that, um, while some of the back and forth was going on in the court system. And so, you know, you can look at that space and say, well, it's intended to hold people for less than 72 hours, but you had people in there wearing the same clothing the entire time they owned it. They were in there because again, it's not meant to be a longterm space. And you know, they weren't allowed to even change clothes for the time that they were in the cell.

Speaker 1: 10:01 Well, the timing on these tragic stories this week was pretty good since Congress was debating this, uh, the president, uh, his response, uh, anything comes to mind here on how he's handling this,

Speaker 4: 10:12 uh, go back where you came from. I mean, the one, one of the fascinating stories I think is the response that Mexico has had. They've put troops at the border, they're physically keeping people in a way that we haven't seen. I think, um, from trying to cross, uh, and you know, so in the sense, uh, he is, you know, pushing Mexico and Mexico, he's complying to do that. Uh, but the desperation is just building on those, on those border areas and then those people are making big decisions to move over still. So.

Speaker 1: 10:41 All right, we're out of time in this segment, but it's certainly one that we will continue to stay on because it's such an important issue for this area. Our region, of course, the entire country. Well, we're going to move on [inaudible] versus Nimby. We'll get to the definitions in a moment. But the sudden confrontation sparked by a San Diego Council woman and may oral candidate Barbara Brie has an explosive effect in her race against fellow Democrat, Todd Gloria and s a. S. Scott, start with what we are talking about here and, and how Bri this week CBU embraced the Nimby position even though she was denying that she was kind of,

Speaker 4: 11:14 yeah, for a few years San Diego has been kind of dancing around a big reckoning and the moment where the city really deals with the plans, it's laid out, uh, the, the sort of growth factors that are already there. We're, we're, we're creating more humans. We're having more humans here. People are still moving here in some cases and jobs are being created here. And so the demand that's placed on housing has really caused housing. They've become so expensive, uh, that all of us, uh, with employees or kind of colleagues are having trouble keeping it going. Uh, Tuesday morning we got a, um, a email everybody did from Robert Brie who's running for mayor, she's a city council woman and the subject line said they are coming for your homes. And that got her our home. Yes. For our, for our homes. And so it wasn't quite clear who they were, where there was hordes of mobs that were going to come to La Jolla to take people's right are who our homes are.

Speaker 4: 12:05 Exactly. Uh, what she referenced was a bill in Sacramento that's, that would make it a little wood for cities to make it clear to builders what the rules are to pass 'em. Some buildings are to get homes built. It would, uh, it would allow them to, it would force cities to not lower the number of homes that they've planned for. Um, but a lot of it's more severe. Uh, draconian changes were, were stripped out, but she's still raised the alarm about what that law would do to usurp local control or protection over some of these neighborhoods that she wants to protect. Uh, and then she also blasted gimme Democrats of San Diego, a relatively new democratic club who, whose whole should say what UMB stands for, yes. In my backyard. So the idea of being like, we need to start saying yes to housing projects in our communities, uh, around specifically transit and high jobs areas.

Speaker 4: 12:57 And so that we can, um, accommodate this growth and, and protect people from having to deal with such high home prices as opposed to not in my backyard. And then bury the sprawl and, and, yeah. And there's a real long tradition, as you well know, in San Diego, politics of protecting San Diego of the Peter Navarro ran for mayor, uh, in a no growth platform in the 90s. Well, that same sentiment is still very strong and Democrats are really, they're really bifurcated on this. They're young. There's a lot of young folks that say this DMV thing is what we need. But she slammed that said, Todd, Gloria, her main rival is, is, is championing their cause and their corporate Wall Street, uh, speculative interests. And, you know, it was something for her to say as she's made so much money in the markets and such, and she has done really well. And so it was a pretty striking moment. You know, I don't think that her and Todd, Gloria, frankly, have that big of a difference in their policies, but their willingness to embrace the different rhetoric, rhetorical sides has been really striking. And she's basically saying, we need to protect our neighborhoods, aren't neighborhood characters, especially some of these along the coast. And this guy is coming for your home.

Speaker 5: 14:02 And of course tie, go ahead. I'm sorry. When you asked her about it, she didn't necessarily say I'm anti density. She just said, I don't like the state control of, you know, where we can build our, I don't want to have it both ways in it. Right?

Speaker 4: 14:16 Yeah. There's basically a theory among this class of folks that wants to see more housing built, that local politicians will never be influenced or never have the incentive to approve those kinds of things. And thus it should be taken away. It should be Sacramento who says if you're this kind of building around this kind of thing, it should be approved no matter what. And so that's the thing that she's pushing back against. But there's a lot, there's been a kind of constant last five, 10 years where politicians have said, we love smart growth, or we love this kind of growth, but not here or not here. And so think that, um, you know, that's sort of that record that has to be reckoned with because the city passed a law called the climate action plan that really envisions this sort of growth happening. It has to happen to comply with this plan. And so, um, if you are against that kind of three to four story or four to five story, um, uh, building around transit areas, then you are against the climate action plan that they passed. And that two sides, especially among Democrats, that has not been reconciled and there are two very strong wings sort of building out of

Speaker 1: 15:24 now, what was the reaction? I mean, you mentioned how that was kind of a startling line on that. Annette mailer w what's been,

Speaker 4: 15:30 I was into that category, his reaction as well. Todd hit her. But TAA, the most shocking one I thought was from the chairman of the Democratic Party in San Diego County who said, uh, basically he didn't name her, but he said, you know how to run for office, how or how not to run for office one oh one don't from your mansion in La Hoya. Uh, hit a bunch of diverse young people who are trying to, um, you know, address the homeless or the housing affordability. Hold on, let's put holes in the market and do that in that way. And, and, and he's, he was, it was a really striking rebuke for chairman

Speaker 5: 16:06 indicated that there was some racial undertones to, to her email as well. The, they're coming for our homes. Did you get a sense of that?

Speaker 4: 16:14 Yeah, I think he said like, it plays into every ism possible elitism, racism. Uh, so yeah. I mean the chairman of the Democratic Party hit her for almost, you know, implied racism and uh, and then the leader of the climate action campaign, Nicole Cafritz, who's a big on this, you know, complying with this plan. She said, you can't be a climate champion, as she said, and hold these kinds of views about protecting these characters of these, these neighborhoods.

Speaker 1: 16:43 Yeah. The idea again, is to get people out of their cars, stop the sprawl, stop the 35 minute commutes up north, get them near transit centers, more density and stop burning

Speaker 4: 16:52 fossil fuels in that room. Yeah, there's a lot of people on the coast that consider themselves environmentalist. Uh, but, uh, you know, getting rid of your, or you could doing solar panels, changing how you get energy, that's one thing. But the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases is the, is the car. And um, and so they're saying if you ever want to address that thoroughly, you got to get people out of the cars. And that means you have to change the very fundamental look and feel of most of many of these neighborhoods.

Speaker 1: 17:18 Now, who does Barbara Aubrey seem to be wooing and her nimby approach? Is there a big guy?

Speaker 4: 17:23 I think Jerry is, I think, you know, I moderated debate in the foothills La Mesa Democratic Party where there was a lot of older Democrats there and they, they loved the person who was espousing protect your neighborhoods and be suspicious of these developers. And, and so, you know, I don't think it's at all clear that the consensus around [inaudible] is, is really prevalent, uh, among Democrats. But we'll see how it shakes out. This could very well, this race could very

Speaker 5: 17:49 well be a referendum on that. That's exactly I was going to say is that this mayor's race is going to show kind of where the city is standing and just, I have friends who are younger consider themselves very progressive but also say we really shouldn't build any more homes because we don't need any more people here. We should just leave it the way it is. But would say they're progressive in every other way

Speaker 1: 18:09 out of time on this topic. But it's fascinating. I'm sure we'll get into it more as we move along in this mayor's race. Well, we're gonna move along. The idea is noble increase racial diversity amongst city councils, but it took court action to make cities comply. We're talking about the switch to have city council members elected by district instead of citywide and clear, um, start with this. A impetus for this, why district election seem to better the chances of getting more people of color on city council.

Speaker 5: 18:35 Well, right. The idea is instead of holding a citywide vote where everyone in the city can vote for all the council members, you drop these districts, which is something that the city of San Diego has been doing for a long time. And then people, if there's a large pocket of maybe one minority in a certain area, they will be able to elect someone just from their area. And so therefore increased diversity on their city council.

Speaker 1: 18:58 Inexpense expense plays into it. It obviously tougher to run,

Speaker 5: 19:00 right? It's much harder for someone to, then you need more money, more outreach to run across the city instead of just in one small area.

Speaker 1: 19:08 Better known. Now KPBS did an analysis, the impact in San Diego County of city switching to district emotions first, how many switched and which ones haven't?

Speaker 5: 19:16 Well, so five have not switched. Cornetto del Mar, La Mesa, a national city and lemon grove. Um, but the rest have switched. A few have switched but haven't yet actually held their first district elections. So we looked at 10 who have switched and have already had at least one election. Is there their collection, the impact or the bottom line on it? Well, it's about half and half. So far, so five haven't seen an increase in a diversity on their city councils in three of those, um, Encinitas, Poway and Santi I believe have councils that are all white, but another four or five have, have seen their diversity go up by at least one council member.

Speaker 1: 19:57 All right. And it's a small of sample and it's only one election for a lot of these places so far. Right. So, so the, the jury is out.

Speaker 5: 20:05 Yeah, it's more, I mean, it's interesting to maybe look more at other examples across the state where they've had a little more time. And I looked at Escondido, which was one of the first to switch. And so they've had a little bit more time for, to see if there's any impact.

Speaker 1: 20:19 Yeah. Give us some details there because that's an interesting case.

Speaker 5: 20:22 Right? So Escondido switched back in 2012. They had their first district election in 2014 and there, this woman can swell. A Martinez ran against a long time, um, white man incumbent and lost, um, she lost by about 70 votes I think. But then she had a little bit more time, more organization. There was also a big blue wave in Escondido overall in 2018 and so then she, she was able to pick up a seat there.

Speaker 1: 20:48 So second time was the charm. And uh, how does that change the makeup of the council then? Because it was, it was all uh, pretty monolithically

Speaker 5: 20:55 well before even they switched to district elections, all the Diaz who's now running for county supervisor had been able to win in a citywide vote. So now it's split. There's two Latino women on the council, um, two white men and then the, the mayor is also white.

Speaker 1: 21:12 Yeah, we should know the bottom line demographic search. It's been a long time since I delved into Escondido politics, but I think it was at least 50, 50 in terms of Latinos in, in among the,

Speaker 5: 21:21 well, and it's what's interesting is in the districts that they drew the district that's majority Latino is barely majority Latino. I think it was 50.04% Latino. So they didn't actually drop a district that was overwhelmingly,

Speaker 4: 21:37 got it. Yeah. So, um, one of the, I, I felt like it Kinda come off on the story that it was that it didn't work, but if 50% of the cities that use that you checked out did have a significant increase or some increase in, in the, in the difference in diversity of, of people who were there. That seems like for a short period of time, like a

Speaker 5: 21:56 Oh yeah, for sure. I didn't mean to make it sound like it didn't work. And my story today said, you know, it actually may also be too soon to tell like cities like El Cahone, um, where they drew districts, they haven't yet had their election where the majority were, the districts with a large chunk of Middle Eastern population have gotten to vote yet. Right. So they're kind of gearing up for November, 2020. So I think November, 2020 is really gonna be an even better test of, you know, is this actually working?

Speaker 4: 22:25 But some of, but the ones that remain white like that does stand out. And is that a function of just there? There is not a large population of potential.

Speaker 5: 22:34 Yeah. I mean in places like Poway or Encinitas, it's very difficult to draw a map where there's any district with a majority of minority population because there just aren't that many minority people there and they don't necessarily live in one, a specific part of the city. You really need it to be like a geographically concentrated area. Hm.

Speaker 1: 22:57 Now you also interviewed, we should talk about the folks who are kind of getting displaced by these selections. Ed Gallo was a, was one there in essence.

Speaker 5: 23:05 Yeah. He was a long time councilman and Escondido. Um, he said he wasn't a big fan of the districting process in the first place and then he really didn't like it after he lost. Um, but his point, he had a few points. One was that he pointed out that old, the Diaz was able to win, um, with, with the citywide vote. And he said that she just worked hard and you know, that's how she did it. I don't know if that's necessarily true. Is other point, which is one that I heard from a few people is that one possible outcome is that council members then really only look out for their own district. Kind of like we're talking about a little bit with the Nimbyism, you know, when you're just protecting your neighbors, then maybe you looking out for the good of the city overall because you're only responsible to the people who live around you. Who elected you.

Speaker 1: 23:53 Well that's an interesting point and we've seen that in San Diego, which is, we noted has had a district like that.

Speaker 4: 23:57 Yeah, that was a point that a lot of people made in the, you know, about 10 years ago when there was a lot of financial problems at the city. You know, they would always say like politically there was no incentive for any one of the individual council members to do anything hard, um, to, you know, change how the city's finances were structured because a, their motivation was almost wholly in making their neighbors happy and nobody had any concern about or had any political incentive to actually take on. Very difficult decisions to either raise taxes or to cut employee employees or employee benefits or services. And so it always created this very tense situation. The counterbalance is supposed to be the mayor of these towns. The mayor is elected at large and the mayor is supposed to represent the whole area and in and is supposed to guide and, and you know, create the kind of tension that would help that. But you know, that depends on who that mirror is and they're good at their

Speaker 5: 24:52 well. And I think all of the council members including cause Consuela Martinez, she said, you know, it's not that I just care about my own neighborhood. I care about the good of the city. I'm sure every council representative would say, Oh, I love the whole city. I'm, you know, here with, to represent these people, but I want what's best for the entire city. Yeah.

Speaker 1: 25:10 Kinda like the dichotomy between a congress person in his or her district and a senator statewide.

Speaker 4: 25:16 Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So, um, was it, did you know lately San Diego has functioned a little bit better and the council is very strong compared to the,

Speaker 1: 25:24 well, we're out of time, but we'll watch that going forward. Got another election coming up. They're telling me, well, that does wrap up another week of stories at the KPBS round table. And I'd like to thank my guests, Kate Morrissey at the San Diego Union Tribune, Scott Lewis, a voice of San Diego, and Claire Traeger, sir of KPBS News. And a reminder, all the stories that we discussed today, they're available on our website. KPBS dot. O r. G I'm Mark Sauer. Thanks for joining us today and join us again next week on the round table.

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KPBS Roundtable

Mark Sauer hosts KPBS Roundtable, a lively discussion of the week's top stories. Local journalists join Sauer to provide insight into how these stories affect residents of the San Diego region.