San Diego Leaders Grapple with Border City Realities

As the busiest border crossing in the Western Hemisphere, San Diego occupies a unique perspective on immigration as a city with close social and cultural ties to Mexico. The geography of the area means city residents enjoy mutual interests, personal relationships and a general sort of kinship with Mexicans living just over the border in Tijuana.

The situation “makes for a nuanced reality not usually found in the typical blunt immigration debate,” columnist Michael Smolens writes in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

On the one hand, Smolens recently noted, the Republican Board of Supervisors representing San Diego constituents voted in support of the federal lawsuit that challenges the state’s immigrant sanctuary laws. On the other hand, a bipartisan group of business and political leaders actively reach out to officials in Mexico City to discuss improvements around border traffic waits, bolstering trade and other common-ground issues.

Sentiments around immigration “often heats up in cycles and is usually linked to economic downturns and significant increases in illegal border crossings,” but plenty of factions fanning the flames maintain high tension around the issue. While President Trump placed immigration squarely as the centerpiece of his campaign, Gov. Jerry Brown and the state’s legislature began their track record of both protecting and expanding benefits to unauthorized immigrants– including allowing for state-issued driver’s licenses– back when Barack Obama still sat in the Oval Office.

State legislature mandates and sanctuary laws contribute to a wave of frustration for conservative residents living in California. At the same time, local constituents chafe at the idea of executing iron-fisted federal mandates.

“Many local leaders see it as an impediment to their mission to improve cross-border relations and trade that they believe are vital to the region’s well-being.”

Tom Shephard, a political consultant in San Diego, said the San Diego Chamber of Commerce deserve kudos for maintaining a “laser-like focus” on trade and related issues.

“It’s not that they aren’t concerned about illegal immigration or think it’s a good thing, but they want it addressed through comprehensive federal reform.” The report continues “The harsh rhetoric and tougher policies don’t make their dealings with Mexico any easier.”

Columnist Smolens puts it another way. “In a border city, immigration is not abstract. It’s a firsthand experience. There are real frustrations and negative impacts from people crossing the border illegally. There’s an economic engine that needs fuel from cross-border trade, along with generations of rich binational culture baked into the region’s DNA.”