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Migrant welcome center closes as federal immigration reform fails to be passed

 February 23, 2024 at 1:59 PM PST

S1: This week on Kpbs roundtable , we take a look at the state of the US immigration system and the increased role the San Diego Tijuana border region is playing in it.

S2: The numbers have skyrocketed , you know , the last several years , really since 2019.

S1: All that as a welcome center for migrants closes its doors. We take a look at what that means for asylum seekers arriving in the area.

S3: It looks like it's just going to go back to what it was before , which would be street releases. They're going to be released in transit centers in San Ysidro and North County , most likely.

S1: Plus other top stories from the week on this week's roundup. That's ahead on Kpbs roundtable. 2023 ended with a record number of migrant encounters along the US-Mexico border for the month of December. It capped another year of asylum seekers from across the globe navigating an overwhelmed immigration system in the United States. Meanwhile , a bipartisan effort to pass immigration reform failed earlier this month. And closer to home , here in the San Diego Tijuana border region , a local migrant shelter is closing its doors this week , leaving a hole in services for asylum seekers in the region. Here , to help us break it all down , I'm joined now by Kpbs investigative border reporter Gustavo Solis and Elliot Padgett , San Diego correspondent and US immigration team lead with the Associated Press. I want to welcome you both back here to Roundtable and Gustavo , this week , a local migrant welcome center is closing its doors , citing a lack of funding. Tell us about what's been happening there and the role that it's been playing since it opened last fall.

S3: It is not very surprising. I think people knew that the shelter was going to close when it did , and there's a lot of frustration in the community about that. The county spent $6 million on this shelter , and , you know , it came and went and there's no real long term. There's really nothing to show for it in the long term. Now , while it was open , it did a lot of good. Something like 70,000 , 80,000 migrants went through there. And it was a place where we've talked about this before , right ? The migrants , asylum seekers who are out in Kakuma and between the two border walls and safety system , once they get processed to through Customs and Border Protection , they ended up at that shelter. And it was at that shelter where they would get some food , they'd get access to WiFi to make travel arrangements , and something like 98% of them would leave San Diego and reach their , you know , final destination in the US , whether it be LA , San Francisco , New York , Chicago , whatever have you. But closing that center means that those people will now have nowhere to go , and it looks like it's just going to go back to what it was before , which would be street releases. They're going to be released in transit centers in San Ysidro and North County , most likely. I don't know if you've heard anything other than that. Correct.

S2: Yeah , that's that's the way it was. I think it started in September when the two big shelters in San Diego , Jewish Family Service and Catholic Charities , said they were full and they were taking they were still able to take all the families , but the single adults were getting released. They were temporarily now at this county shelter , and now they'll be back in the streets and having to find their way to the airport , to the bus stations. And I'm sure some NGOs will be some organizations will be out there trying to help just but without any , without any government support. Yeah.

S3: So we're kind of back to where we started because those two other shelters are still at capacity. They're still full. Mhm.

S1: And you guys touched on it before but I think we have we heard stories about before Border Patrol would just do these drops at you know at like bus stops and train centers. So was this shelter sort of put in place as an emergency sort of stopgap to kind of stop that from happening and give them more services to kind of go to these other places that you mentioned , Gustavo.

S3: I mean , that's how I viewed it as like a direct response to this , right ? Because nobody wanted the street releases. They look chaotic. They put a lot of pressure on local communities down in San Isidro. And I know Oceanside , all of the North County mayors were kind of up in arms about this. It's not safe for the migrants themselves to just be out in the public. There's no , you know , restrooms , shelter , uh , electricity. So it was just a poor situation that neither the migrants nor the communities wanted. And this shelter was meant to be a response to that.

S2: And it wasn't a shelter. It wasn't an overnight shelter.

S3: So , yeah , I should call it a migrant. Welcome center is the official name of it , I see. Okay.

S1: Okay. So , Elliott , you know , some of your recent reporting you wrote about , you know , the number of migrant arrivals , particularly the record highs in December , you quoted a US Customs and Border Patrol official saying it was unprecedented. You know , there was like more than 10,000 illegal crossings certain days that month. Can you put that into perspective for us ? I mean , how unusual are those numbers , you know , for an ordinary December or even overall in 2023.

S2: It's the numbers have skyrocketed , you know , the last several years really since 2019 , I think in 2017 , it was the number of arrests for crossing the border illegally from Mexico were about , I want to say 300,000. Maybe it was 400 , 300,000. Those were the lowest since the early 1970s. And now we're you know , the last two years have been above 2 million , uh , in each of the last two years. So , yeah , some days over 10,000 , which is , uh , is just , uh , pretty extraordinary. So the numbers that , you know , it would dropped , I don't know if you remember back when. The Covid related asylum restrictions expired. Some new restrictions limits went into effect. People were kind of like , what's this going to look like ? It dropped , um , like 40% , I believe , in June from May when the when that change happened and then it just climbed five in the next six months to this record highs. You mentioned 250,000in December and then it dropped again in January , about 50% in half.

S1: So tell us about the January numbers. Like what's behind that. Yeah.

S2: Yeah. Um , you know it. I'm not going to read too much into it because it's one month and things go up and down. But apparently they are staying low in February , uh , the , uh , in San Diego , for example , I was told by the Mexican officials who get their the data directly from CBP that it went from there were like 1200 up to 1200 a day crossing in Cuba in December , and it dropped to like 250 or something. So , you know , seasonal factors that , you know , Christmas holidays that usually the numbers will drop around that time. Another big issue in the CBP has made a big , big deal out of this is , uh , more cooperation from the Mexican authorities. So , so they their immigration agency said they ran out of money in early December. Uh , it raised a lot of alarms in Washington. Secretary Blinken and Mayorkas flew to Mexico City in the last week of December. And to address this. And around that time , Mexico started resuming deportations , um , doing , you know , uh , patrolling the freight trains as they come up through Mexico. So probably those two things , you know , Mexico is more enforcement in the seasonal declines.

S1: And I believe , like even there was a Mexican checkpoint put in place near the Macumba. Yeah.

S2: I haven't been out there , but I saw I don't know , have you know , I was seeing pictures.

S3: I have never seen anything like that before on the I haven't.

S2: It looked really striking because in Cuba it's like I have been to where the gap where people cross the border there there's hundreds of people a day. There's nothing there. The wall , you know , goes out to a it goes it reaches a certain point where where it runs into a mountain. And you could really it's very easy to get around. You just walk around it. It's just very , very easy. There's no there's nothing stopping kids or older people from , from getting across. So it's in the but it's in the middle of it looks like it's in the middle of a ranch , like a very remote ranch. And that's where the Mexican authorities set up this , uh , checkpoint.

S3: Yeah , just like tents. It looks like almost like a , like a festival type tents that you would see there.


S3: But as Elliot said , there's a lot of factors , right ? Like seasonal trends. People don't like to travel as much during the holidays. I imagine weather had something to do with it. It's been really cold , really rainy , which makes it really daunting and difficult and just frankly , dangerous to cross at that time. Factored in with Mexico really trying to get on it now , uh , as a result of pressure from the US. So I think a whole bunch of issues.

S1: And macumba , you know , the areas around we're talking about this desert community in Hot Springs and thereabouts , it really was a major arrival point for the San Diego region. Would you say most of last year , several months of last year.

S3: So I don't I don't see it changing. And the way at least my understanding of migration is once one migration route is established , people tend to kind of use it , right ? People are communicating to friends back home. They're on WhatsApp groups talking about their journey. So I feel like once you establish a route is very difficult to change it or diverted without a big , big effort.

S2: You know , the immigration is going to continue. Migration is going to continue whether they're crossing Hachem or Campo or El Cajon. Um , I don't think any of us know the smugglers decide those things. Uh hakamada was the first time I noticed it was in May , right before the pandemic restrictions , title 42 lifted , and it was actually a fair amount from Uzbekistan , in Turkey and then Colombia. And there were about 700 people out there at any given time just camped out there. And it's a very striking place because there's just nothing. It is off the interstate. It's very close to I-8 , but but it really is remote. And I've never seen any crossing like it really. And they're right now , you know , largely Chinese who who come through that area and Turk is Turks and it's very few Mexicans , or at least that I've seen. Yeah.

S1: And I think both of you have kind of spoken about this. Just the changing face of migration. Gustavo , you talked about , you know , historically it was more like Mexican men. And that's , you know , that's transitioned to people from all of you mentioned Uzbekistan all over Gustavo.

S3: And you're right. I mean , I , I think I've brought this up before , but I think it's one of my few immigration fun facts when you look at historical stats , right , that OTM category where migration , it used to be like apprehended people were either Mexicans or OTM , which was other than Mexican. That's how common that group was. Yeah. We've seen I mean , we continue to see other nationalities. I know in Tijuana they count them. Do you know what the number is like 180 something different.

S2: More than 100. Oh , gosh. I have them here on my phone. But yeah , like in Tijuana , the airport , um , over 100 nationalities in the last three months of the year. And , and also , you know , they crossed the border. What's interesting is San Diego , for some reason , has drawn a lot of these Eastern Hemisphere countries , San Diego , in Arizona , whereas I think , you know , Texas is you see more Venezuelans and Mexicans , traditional Central Americans , the traditional nationalities. And I don't know why that is , but the numbers , I don't remember them offhand , but , uh , Gustavo mentioned that Border Patrol used to have Mexicans , and other than Mexicans , OTM , they do still have another category that they have , but it's after about 20 other nationalities. Yeah. And and that that category , the other category is one of the largest in the San Diego sector. I believe it's the third largest. So we're talking countries that are not even in the top 20.

S1: And Elliot , I think you also have mentioned , you know , with this increase in migrant arrivals , you note that San Diego is becoming a busier area for those arrivals. I think the San Diego sector is now the third busiest. I think you said it's higher than it has been in past years.

S2: And Del Rio is is another these are the nine different regions , corridors in the the Mexican border. Del Rio is includes Eagle Pass , Texas. And that's where Texas Governor Greg Abbott has been really amping things up. And and , you know , putting troops , he's preventing federal agents from from even reaching the border in the in the town of Eagle Pass. Um , so so those two areas , Tucson , um , and Eagle Pass , Del Rio , are ahead of San Diego. San Diego has always been a little bit never the quietest , but much quieter. Right now , it's busier than Rio Grande Valley in the southern tip of Texas , which has been the busiest for , you know , over a decade. And again , these are like I was saying earlier , these are things that are hard for us to understand. I mean , it's the smugglers deciding which is the most economic who they have to pay off the least. What's this ? You know , easiest all kinds of calculations that we'll never , never really know.

S3: So I do think that's pretty newsworthy , because the whole time I've been an immigration reporter , like San Diego hasn't really been top of the list. No. And you get questions like , how crazy is the border ? And my answer was always like , well , it's not like Texas.

S1: And so just to be clear , it's not just the increase of of , you know , migrant arrivals that we've seen in the last couple of years. But the San Diego region has a greater share of arrivals compared to other parts of the US Mexican border. Right. Just yeah , I.

S2: Think the numbers are. Yeah. The numbers were down from January from December , but they dropped even sharper I think in del the Rio sector , it was I want to say 75% drop is a lesser percentage drop in San Diego. But it did fall. The Venezuelans dropped 91% in January from December. So for some reasons Venezuelans are were not did not cross that much in January. I don't know. What we look at is we look at how many people are crossing from Colombia to Panama through the Darien Gap , how many people are crossing through Honduras , because those are all people that are coming up to the United States. They want to at least. And those numbers went up in January. So that's from those crossing in Panama. So that makes me think this isn't going to last. This does drop isn't going to last too long.

S3: Hey Mike , speak a little bit to maybe Mexican enforcement if they're getting to Mexico not getting there , but I don't I don't expect Mexico to sustain that level of enforcement. No I don't they really do.

S2: People do. They don't have the money.

S1: When roundtable returns , we continue our conversation on migration and reflect on the last few years and what it's brought to the San Diego Tijuana border region.

S3: Feels like we're just in a situation of a constant , like crisis , or just ready , like all hands on deck. It's like one emergency after another after another , and there's no real time to breathe.

S1: That's coming up next on roundtable. You're listening to Kpbs roundtable today. We're talking about the state of the US immigration system and the increased role the San Diego Tijuana border region is playing in it. My guests are Elliot Saget from the Associated Press and Kpbs , Gustavo Solis. Now , Gustavo , you've done you know , we've talked a little bit about technology and the role that that's kind of plays here. You've done a lot of reporting on the CBP one app , which is the technology on the the government side to handle asylum seekers. You've reported not only on the rollout of the technology and some of the bumps there , some of the problems that you found , but also its impact on the asylum system at large. Can you talk about that ? Yeah.

S3: So just to recap a little bit , CBP one is this application that asylum seekers can use to kind of like prevent themselves before they make an appointment across the border. You need certain requirements to , you know , you obviously need a phone. You need to have a certain amount of , you know , tech savviness to use the app. You need to identify a sponsor in the US who you can connect with. And it lets you set up an appointment so that instead of , you know , hiking out through Lakemba , you can just show up to the port of entry and cross. There were issues with the app really having to do with equity. You know , in the beginning , part of the process you have is you have to take a picture. Folks with dark skin tones who are having a really hard time getting the app to recognize their face. There were also , you know , a lot of people from more affluent countries and more affluent migrants like Eastern Europeans were getting the bulk of the appointments early on. But to the government's credit , they changed. You know , they've corrected some of the photo issues. They've given some priority to people who have been trying the longest to get the app. Um , so it's working for folks who can do it , but. It takes a set amount of privilege to use that right in Tijuana. The officials there told me the average wait time is 4 to 5 months to secure an appointment. So you have to be willing to wait 4 or 5 months in Tijuana or in Mexico to get an appointment. You have to have enough money to do that. You have to feel safe enough to do that. And if you can , then it's a safer way to get into the country. But if you can't , then you know you're going to be hiking out and putting your life at risk because you're so desperate or you just don't want to wait that long. Yeah , there's.

S2: Is it one time , I think it's 1450 a day that they allow in under that app across the border. Yeah.

S3: I've been told it's 400. Yeah.

S2: Yeah. Me too. And the issue I have with it is , you know , it doesn't identify the most vulnerable and I don't it doesn't intend to. It's not just pretend to do that. But you know , the people who are , who are most vulnerable in need of asylum are not necessarily going to get get. It's like buying a concert ticket. You just you're , you know , everyone's trying to get in and. Yeah , and it's way oversubscribed. And you know , you just have to be patient to patient to get it. Wait , what did you say for four months.

S3: 4 to 5.

S2: Months , 4 to 5 months or just say , you know , forget this. I'm not waiting. I'm going to cross and come back and get released in two days. Yeah.

S3: Which if you're desperate , kind of by definition , you don't have 4 or 5 months to wait.

S1: Elliott , there have been some other recent changes on asylum.

S2: It's generally considered like 10% chance of success. And the asylum officer will will clear that initial hurdle. You get a court date. The court date takes the court. You know , cases are taken like 5 to 7 years to resolve. So that's an incentive for people with weak cases. They know that , you know , hey , even I'll get past the credible fear interview because it's pretty easy. What I found is it's in many cases is very rarely even done. So you just get a court date and you get 5 to 7 years right off the bat , even if you have a weak case. So , you know , there was this change to raise that , that standard to make it more difficult to a more likely than not a standard that you're going to get asylum , that you'll need to do that to get past that initial hurdle. But it hasn't been applied. And just the numbers , I won't get into them , but the the numbers are , they're high. I mean , they are they they did 130,000 of these interviews on the border last year , which sounds like a lot was double the previous years. But as I mentioned , 2 million illegal crossings. Yes it is. Yeah. It just it just hasn't really had had much impact. And there was if this is what you're referring to , there was of course the big discussion in Washington. It failed. I don't know if I wanted to get into this.

S1: Yeah , let's get into that. So I think a lot of times when we've had you on before , the conversation inevitably at some point goes back to Washington , D.C. , and the state of the federal immigration system and the lack of movement for federal immigration reform. But earlier this month , there was some movement. A bipartisan group of senators released an immigration plan that was quickly shot down by Republicans in the House and and others. But I just wanted to get your thoughts on what it was like to see , you know , some movement at the federal level on this.

S3: I guess one was it's important to keep in mind that it was tied to funding for Ukraine in Israel. Right ? So it was kind of used as an extra bargaining chip , which kind of tells you it's not a standalone priority if it can be bargained with something else. The other thing you mentioned , it was a bipartisan and it was there were there was bipartisan agreement from it. But a lot of people on the left , I'm thinking progressives and really the the immigrant advocate communities were very unhappy for they described it as a Democrats shifting right on immigration because they weren't really getting a lot of benefit from it , like expansions from for undocumented folks or increased access to the asylum process. It was very much giving the Republicans what they wanted and not getting a lot of what the Democrats wanted. And I think that's something I think the the Democratic Party is going to have to reconcile moving forward is where they want to be on immigration.

S1: Part of this plan , I think , was to end catch and release. I think it was also adding limits to your point of asylum and those arriving. Elliotte what are your thoughts on.

S2: Well , yeah , I have a lot of a lot of thoughts to it. It was fascinating. I mean , just watching it like every day. And my colleagues were like door stopping these , these members of Congress for four months. And the result was , I guess , kind of predictable. I mean , it was dead on arrival , to use the the phrase of the House speaker , it. Died like almost within a day or two days , maybe. Um , but , yeah , I mean , it was an attempt to create a political center on the issue , which is pretty admirable effort. I mean , the issue is just so , so polarizing. And and the deal in the end was it was killed not just as Gustavo mentioned , by with the progressives very upset , but just as or maybe even more importantly , the , the Republican , you know , people on the right were they didn't what didn't go far enough. But , you know , basically what it did is it it had some you know , it was it was a tough bill , a tough agreement , you know , in the sense that it created a border emergency power , the president. So if if illegal crossings got above a certain level , asylum would effectively shut down. And it also created this like super fast screening , uh , mechanisms where asylum officers , not immigration judges , would decide everything within. I believe it was six months instead of six years. And then they threw in some some sweeteners about , you know , I think visas and I can't remember what. But , you know , it was a complicated bill , but.

S3: But the big one was it was the president shutting down the border.

S2: Like now they say he might do. Anyway , there's some reporting that he might do that anyways is an executive order. But I thought it was , you know , I'm not talking about the merits of it. I thought it was pretty well thought out. I mean , it did address the issues , whether you agree with with their answers or not. It was relevant to today. It addressed what is happening on the ground today , which we haven't seen Congress do in ever. You know , at least at least.

S3: A lot of pressure. I mean , they're getting pressure from cities like New York , Chicago , which they've never gotten pressure for on this issue. So I think a lot of it was trying to to win people over in those cities and just kind of try to restore at least the appearance of order along the border. Yeah.

S2: Yeah. And the politics are like fascinating. And I'm not I you know , my read is probably unsophisticated , probably off the mark. We don't cover. Politics.

S3: Politics.

S2: Yeah , but because I was talking with some of my colleagues about this and they're saying , you know , Trump and Trump came out against it , which was really the death knell. And people say , well , he wanted to campaign on it. And he objected to that. He said , no , we just we just didn't. We thought it was a terrible bill. But now the Democrats , you know , Biden can say it was a winning issue for him because even if he had signed it , he could say , I'm working with Republicans to address it. And if it failed , he could blame Republicans and saying they're just using it for political gain. They're not serious. So I don't know how you know which what's going to resonate with voters.

S1: Well , and on the political note , I mean , there have been some recent polls that are pointing to immigration being pretty high on voters lists. I think a recent poll from the center for American Political Studies at Harvard and Harris Poll found that voters top concern was immigration , even over things like inflation. Another recent poll from NPR , PBS NewsHour Marist , found immigration was like the third top issue for voters.


S3: Yeah , there's definitely interest in it.

S2: Yeah , there's there's there's big , big , big interest. Yeah. Yeah. We are the it's more among Republicans in the early voting states , in primary caucus states , Iowa , New Hampshire showed immigration was the number one issue ahead of the economy. Uh , I don't think it my understanding it's not quite as high among Democrats. But as Gustavo mentioned , it's , you know , all the large number of rivals in New York , Chicago , Denver , those mayors are speaking out constantly about it and how it's affecting their budgets. So , yeah , I think it's become a definitely a bigger issue across the board. Do you think it.

S1: Has become a bigger issue here , though ? I mean , like as you mentioned , as we've talked before , San Diego , our region is somewhat of like a transit area , like they had had somewhere else. Do you get that sense ? You're hearing more.

S3: Locally ? No , I don't get the sense. I mean , other than , you know , your Jim Desmond's or Bill Wells of the world who are have genuine takes of how the situation has been handled and the street drop offs like that , that's valid to that. But outside of that , no , not in the way you hear in other countries. I do think it's interesting that immigration gets talked about separate from the economy , because the two are very similar , especially if you look at some other aspects of immigration. If you look at labor shortage , there's been communication about increasing or reforming labor work visa laws to to help out with that. There's a lot of , um , research into the amount of money that immigrants can contribute to the country and don't take out because they don't qualify for a lot of social services. So I think just me personally , that those are issues I kind of want to explore more linking or the relationship between immigration and the economy , because I think that could be a really good way to educate people about sort of what's. What's going on ? Yeah , we're.

S2: We're going to want to do a lot more reporting on that too , because , I mean , the reason asylum is , has taken off is because it's pretty much the only way to get in. So but on the politics point , like the Republicans are the ones that are really running with immigration. Trump Democrats I think are have been very uncomfortable with it. And a lot of , you know , divisions between progressives and and others in the party. And , you know , you look at Biden , who himself has , you know , really , really struggled with the issue. He's he's called it a crisis. Uh , he called it a crisis. And , you know , we use the crisis of the C word in Mayorkas to start homeland security started to use the word crisis finally , after being pressed on it by Republicans year after year. So there um , I mean , there are really struggling with it and trying to trying to find a way to make it work for them , or at least not at least not be a , you know , a devastating strike against them with.

S3: The back foot of the like. They're on the defensive on the issue , and they don't really have a retort for what the Republicans are saying , which just really put them in a really weak position , um , just based on the politics of it.

S1: Now , you both have covered immigration in the San Diego Tijuana region for for several years. You have a lot of experience here. Can you talk about the significance of the last few years , particularly ? I mean , we've talked about you mentioned title 42 , which we've talked about with both of you on this program before.

S3: You know , I'll admit I was when , like I thought coming out of the pandemic , we'd see things go back to pre-pandemic levels and things , you know , quote unquote , go back to normal. Um , even with title 42 was lifted , I thought there would be a big increase and then it would steadily go back down to , to normal levels. But I haven't seen this I'm really surprised by. How long this increased number has been sustained , and there doesn't seem to be an end to it. And it's feels like we're just in a situation of a constant , like crisis or just ready , like all hands on deck. It's like one emergency after another after another , and there's no real time to breathe. Eliot.

S4: Eliot. Yeah.

S2: Yeah. No , I've just been constantly surprised , and I think I think the last time it was on the program , you asked , what are your predictions for the coming year ? And I said , I'm not going to touch that one because it's just always I mean , I didn't see her coming. I didn't see that , you know , I didn't see people from China coming for thousands of month crossing in San Diego. Uh , you know , it's just very difficult to predict what what's next ? But the forces are pretty strong. I mean , I don't know if , you know , Trump , if he wins , would try to come in and end a lot of this sort of carrot and stick approach that Biden has tried with CBP one and patrolling people in and then at the same time trying to crack down on people who cross illegally , he would he would try to pretty much shut it down. I think to the extent he could shut down asylum , I don't know if that's even I don't think it's possible. Maybe he doesn't.

S3: I mean , we'll shut down people from entering the country , but it wouldn't stop migrants from leaving their home.

S2: And forces especially you look at like Venezuela , which is a huge issue that merits its own discussion because , I mean , they were the number one nationality in September , crossing the border , 7 million people. I think it's like a fifth of the country or something have left over ten years. So and there's no hope , you know , there's no hope of turning the corner there right now. So , um , yeah , the , the , the forces pushing people there are very , very , very strong. And then of course , always the smartphone and people technology , the ease of getting around it makes , it makes me think that this will this will continue , but I don't I wouldn't venture to say where how you know and what what how much you know.

S3: I will say I think some cities are getting more comfortable with it , or some organizations at least. I went to the Jewish Family Shelter Services and they run a really good operation. They've they're coming at to almost 200,000 people that they've , they've served and gone through their process. And now they have it figured out. So there are blueprints out there , maybe too few and far between right now , but people are figuring it out. And I think cities like New York and Chicago , the longer they are confronted with these problems , the the more likely it is that they find a way to to deal with them. But it's going to take everybody's effort funding from the federal , state , local governments , philanthropy and just people willing to do the work.

S1: Well , we have plenty to talk about going forward in the months ahead. I want to thank you both for being here. I've been speaking with Gustavo Solis , Kpbs investigative border reporter , and Elliot Baggett , San Diego correspondent and immigration team lead with the Associated Press. Thank you both for being here.

S3: Thank you. Yeah. Thanks.

S1: When we come back , we catch up on the top stories from the Week with Kpbs web producer Laura McCaffrey. Stay tuned. Roundtable is back in less than two minutes. You're listening to Kpbs roundtable , I'm Andrew Bracken. It's time now to check in on some other top stories from the week. And joining me to do that is Kpbs web producer Laura McCaffrey. Hey , Laura.

S5: Hey , Andrew.

S1: How are you doing ? Good.

S5: So the digital team , we have all our digital widgets that tell us like what stories are popular on the website. It's usually pocketbook issues , cost of living. Um , so the big news this week was student loans. So , um , the first batch of people that were enrolled in the Biden administration save plan , they got their student loan balances wiped. And on Wednesday , the federal Education Department zeroed out loan balances for almost 153,000 borrowers. Um , and this Save program was started last summer.

S1: And the president has gotten some pushback on these efforts , if you recall from Republican lawmakers , what's going on there ? Yeah.

S5: So Republican lawmakers , they've tried to stop the save plan. They've argued that it's outside of the administration's authority , and they criticize the president for campaigning for votes with this policy. Um , and he pretty much has been he's doing a he's done a three day swing in California campaigning. Um , and that was one of his talking points is his administration's student loan forgiveness efforts.

S1: Well , I guess , you know , as we just talked about earlier in the show , it is a presidential election year and kind of a lot of a lot of , uh , these stories involving leaders , national leaders that have elections , you kind of have to look at it through that lens. Right ? Yeah.

S5: That's right. Well , the latest on the campaign campaign front is in the Chula Vista City Council race. So one of the candidates , the incumbent , um , representing district four , Andrea Cardenas , she resigned this week. Both she and her brother he sues are facing criminal charges of fraud , grand theft , auto money laundering. And she was running for reelection. Right.

S1: Right. And this this scandal has been building over the past few months. But now she finally , ultimately resigned that position.

S5: Ballots have gone out , and , um , it's a little bit unclear what's going to happen if she gets voted back in , I guess.

S1: And , you know , last time we had you on , we talked about the Kpbs Voter Hub. And obviously , you know , we're all kind of focused on this election that's coming up. I think it ends on March 5th. Any other election news ? Yeah.

S5: The the latest addition to the voter hub is our annual well , not annual. Every time we have an election , we have a candidate quiz. And readers can take the quiz answer. Well , this year it's for yes or no questions. It's on issues from lake housing , um , the stormwater system , how to fund that overhaul. Um , and we ask local candidates the same things. So you can go in and to this interactive. And once you're done answering all the questions , you can look at how the candidates responded. And it'll , um , it'll tell you which candidates responded similarly to you , to be honest. Like , for me as a voter , it was pretty enlightening on how voters like stand with my personal beliefs. Yeah.

S1: Yeah. I mean , I remember doing this quiz at least one other election and it is just helpful any way you can kind of get more information and tie it into your own beliefs , I think is great. So , um , that's something that I'll be looking at doing before I send my ballot in , which is sitting like on my desk right now as we speak.

S5: Yeah , I think mine's under a pile of papers , but I'll get to it , I swear.

S1: So I still think so. What are we talking ? Two weeks left.

S5: Oh , yeah. Yeah , it's coming up. Coming in hot.

S1: And you know another story. You know , we're drying off now from our latest atmospheric river. A lot of , you know , attention is still on the impacts from the floods of that January 22nd storm. What's the latest there ? Yeah.

S5: So , um , actually , Kpbs did a community event , um , with some South Bay leaders at the San Isidro Public Library. Um , that was on Tuesday night. And so we gathered them to talk about , like , what's top of mind as the election comes nearer. And then what dominated the conversation actually was flood recovery and the response to the flood. And as it relates to the election , people had a lot to say about the flood recovery. But as it relates to the election , flood victims voting is. Going to be even harder for them this year. There's a lot of barriers to entry when it comes to voting. There's , you know , not having the time , um , the language barriers , people , you know , not understanding , like how to vote or how to register to vote.

S1: Um , getting to the voting center , like , yeah , people have lost transportation. If you remember , a lot of people lost their cars in the floods.

S5: Um , some ballots have got straight up , like soaked and you can get replacement ballots. We actually have a good article about that at Kpbs. Org. Um , but some people just might not know what to do if their ballots totally ruined. So there's all these existing barriers to entry. And the flood has just compounded these issues because people have a lot more they have a lot more to worry about. You know , they have property damage , looking for a place to live , work issues. So it's it's just made things like elections much more complicated.

S1: And kind of adding to that. I mean , now we've talked about this some on Midday Edition , others in Kpbs have been reporting on it , sort of this new phase of flood recovery as some federal money might be coming in and FEMA is arriving. And just to navigate that can be pretty complicated.

S5: And this money can be used for things like temporary housing , home repairs , low cost loans for uninsured property losses , which there's quite a bit of that , um , because not everybody has flood insurance or thinks about that in San Diego. And then I guess there's other program to help people or business owners. So to qualify for that assistance , you have to contact FEMA. The number is one 800 621 FEMA. Or you can use the FEMA app and apply for your assistance there.

S1: It's definitely going to be a long process there. As you know , people continue to try to repair their homes or get back on their feet.

S5: Yeah , this problem is going to last for a long time , the recovery efforts. But we'll be here to tell you all about it.

S1: So I have a couple. I just wanted to throw your way here. Yeah. One thing I was reading was the San Diego Union Tribune , Philip molnar. He had a story on just the amount of , like , new apartments opening in San Diego. And I don't know if you felt this , but I've definitely been seeing a lot of bigger structures being built over the past , say , several months , I don't know , six months or so , like in my neighborhood. I think he says , you know , there are 50 new complexes being built around the county. The majority of them are in downtown San Diego , but there are examples elsewhere in the county as well. I saw another report that saying , you know , condos , townhomes. Those sales rose in January , but it remains to be seen , you know , with these new , you know , apartment complexes , will it have an impact on this housing crisis and the price of housing ? Because , again , you know , I have other friends , like looking for a new place and it is not cheap and not easy. Yeah.

S5: Yeah. Um , I'm in very beginning stages of possibly buying property , and it is very complicated and a little disheartening. Um , it's interesting that condos and townhomes sales are going up because those are like the cheaper options , but there's all those HOA fees , you know. Right. Yeah. So , um , but.

S1: But I guess in contrast , I mean , the median price for a single family home is nearing that million dollar mark. I think it's 980,000. So obviously , you know , I think building these , you know , more townhomes , condos , you know , larger apartment buildings , we are seeing more of that. And obviously the region needs more housing.

S5: Yeah the supply is very low. I forget what the numbers were. But um , there's I think only like 2000 , 3000 homes like on the MLS right now. So there's not many available and there's a lot of people here.

S1: So so finishing up on a brighter note , it sounds like giant pandas may return to San Diego Zoo even potentially as soon as this year. Yes.

S5: Yes. Arriving as soon as the end of this summer. If all goes well with whatever documents , permits , panda passports or gotten in order. So that's very exciting.

S1: Also , there's sort of this higher level with the panda diplomacy , what they call. We had a segment on this on Midday Edition several months ago , but it was really interesting to see how you could kind of track the relationship of the United States and China to the number of pandas in the US. And so , yeah , China's been taking back over the last several years , have been taking back pandas. You know , the pandas that were here left in 2019 , I think. Other zoos around the country also sent their pandas back. I think the last ones were in Washington , D.C. , but now there might be more coming back. So maybe that maybe that points to increased cooperation between the two countries too.

S5: Yeah , I guess so. Panda diplomacy.

S1: Yeah , it's a real term. I didn't really yeah. Know before we did that midday segment , but so.

S5: These two pandas , the ones they might send , they might be descendants of past San Diego Zoo pandas by Yoon and Gao , if you're familiar.

S1: It sounds familiar. I mean , I've definitely seen the pandas there. Yeah. It's like when you have kids. I mean , that's like , usually the first stop when they were here.

S5: Oh , yeah. I haven't seen the pandas , like , too often because there's usually a line , but I'll go to the red pandas.

S1: I mean , I think , you know , it's just a symbol of this relationship , but it's something we really associate with San Diego Zoo and are kind of like , proud of it. It'll be nice to , you know , if that can come together that quickly too.

S5: This is this is going to be a great summer , let me tell you.

S1: Lauren McCaffrey , thanks so much for being here.

S5: Thanks for having me.

S1: That's our show for this week. Thanks so much for being here. We'd love to hear from you. You can email us at roundtable at Kpbs. Org or leave us a message at (619) 452-0228. You can always listen to our.

S6: Show as a podcast. Kpbs roundtable airs on Kpbs FM at noon on Fridays again Sundays at 6 a.m.. Roundtable's technical producers are Brandon Truffaut and Ben Ridloff. This show was produced by Laura McCaffrey and Brooke Ruth is roundtable senior producer. I'm Andrew Bracken , thanks so much for listening. Have a great weekend.

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U.S. Customs and Border Protection load migrants into vans to take them to processing centers after the migrants waited for hours to days in the desert near Jacumba Hot Springs, Oct. 6, 2023.
Matthew Bowler
U.S. Customs and Border Protection load migrants into vans to take them to processing centers after the migrants waited for hours to days in the desert near Jacumba Hot Springs, Oct. 6, 2023.

The San Diego-Tijuana border region has seen a growing number of migrant arrivals over the last few years. On this edition of Roundtable, we take a look at the state of the U.S. immigration system and the increased role the San Diego-Tijuana border region is playing in it. Meanwhile, a San Diego migrant welcome center closes its doors.

Plus, we hear about other stories affecting our region on the weekly roundup.


Gustavo Solis, investigative border reporter, KPBS

Elliot Spagat, San Diego correspondent, immigration team lead, Associated Press

Lara McCaffrey, web producer, KPBS