Making San Diego an international hub (UT San Diego)

BY DAVID FITZGERALD & JOHN D. SKRENTNY   JULY 3, 2013

UT San Diego

An effort to dramatically increase spending on U.S. border enforcement was a key reason for Senate passage of immigration reform and will be key to bipartisan support in the House. The debate has focused on walling off the border rather than thinking of it as a conduit. Yet border states such as California, and cities such as San Diego, have the unique opportunity to leverage proximity to Mexico to generate jobs and bolster economic growth for the themselves and the United States as a whole. By further integrating with its Mexican sister city, Tijuana, San Diego could become an international trade hub of more than 5 million people in a binational, regional metropolis.

The economic challenges of recent years have aroused fear and skepticism in the United States around global trade and outsourcing. While moving manufacturing outside the United States can cost American jobs, not all trade and outsourcing is equal. Mexico’s shared border with the United States mitigates the costs associated with trade and maximizes the benefits. Many goods imported from Mexico are actually coproduced on both sides of the border, creating jobs for American workers. In fact, according to a report from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 40 percent of the value of imports from Mexico was actually created in the United States by American workers — about 10 times the level of value created in the United States for goods imported from China. Coproduction keeps jobs in North America that might otherwise be lost altogether overseas.

A further benefit of trade from Mexico compared to transoceanic trade is environmental. While all transport of goods relies on the burning of fossil fuels, trade within North America has a smaller environmental footprint and thus produces less pollution and greenhouse gases than transoceanic transport.

The benefits of integration are clear, but many barriers stymie its full potential.

A 2007 study by the San Diego Association of Governments found that border wait times cost the regional economy $7.2 billion in lost economic output and more than 62,000 lost jobs. The hassle of crossing is a major deterrent to mobility. Improvements underway at the San Ysidro crossing and the upgrading of state Route 905 to Otay Mesa are a good start, but more could be done. Programs like FAST (Free and Secure Trade Program) and SENTRI (Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection) that speed crossing for businesses and individuals who have undergone background checks could be expanded. Additional spending authorized by a new immigration bill could ease the logjam, with more agents dedicated to processing travelers and goods, rather than further militarizing a border between two friendly countries.

Old and limited-capacity border infrastructure is another impediment. On the Tijuana side, the design of roads feeding into the border crossing area is confusing and aggravating for drivers. A faster trolley service from downtown San Diego to the border would spur tourism in both directions. An expansion of the San Diego port could export goods coproduced in San Diego and Baja California. To his credit, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has identified border development as a top priority. Yet the mayor faces an uphill battle, as much of the problem with border infrastructure is resolved at the federal level.

Although San Diego has been a border-crossing city as long as there has been a border, the city’s rail, freeway and air links historically made it a southern spur of Los Angeles rather than an important link for the entire state. A more robust partnership between San Diego and Tijuana would re-center the region. Rather than San Diego being the end of the line, it would be a major hub linking the two Californias. The immigration reform now being debated in Congress provides the opportunity to make this dream a reality.

FitzGerald and Skrentny are co-directors of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at UC San Diego, and co-leaders of the San Diego Scholars Strategy Network.

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Qualcomm CEO Discusses Immigration With Obama (UT San Diego)

BY MIKE FREEDOM   FEBRUARY 6, 2013

UT San Diego

Qualcomm Chief Executive Paul Jacobs has often criticized current immigration law, saying it makes it hard to hire foreign-born engineering graduates when the company recruits at U.S. universities.

On Tuesday, Jacobs got the chance to make that pitch directly to President Barack Obama as one of about 10 business leaders invited to the White House to discuss immigration reform.

Jacobs joined chief executives from Motorola Solutions, Goldman Sachs, Yahoo, Marriott, Alcoa, United/Continental and other firms in the private meeting with the president, who has made immigration reform a priority of his second term.

Jacobs was unavailable Wednesday for an interview. But Qualcomm issued a statement saying the San Diego company supports comprehensive changes to the nation’s immigration laws.

“Highly skilled immigrants are critical to innovation and are important contributors to economic growth in the United States,” said Jacobs. “As a company that employs and hires thousands of engineers, we believe it’s critical that we do everything possible to welcome the most talented inventors to our shores by updating immigration rules that disadvantage U.S. companies.”

Qualcomm’s gripe with current law centers on caps and restrictions on temporary work visas and permanent green cards for foreign workers.

For example, one rule forbids spouses of workers with temporary visas from seeking jobs in the U.S., said Alice Tornquist, Qualcomm’s vice president of public affairs based in Washington, D.C. Caps on the number of green cards issued each year can result in foreign-born graduates of U.S. universities waiting years — sometimes a decade — to be cleared to work here permanently.

Supporters of reform say these hurdles discourage not only foreign-born, highly skilled workers but also noncitizen entrepreneurs from founding companies and creating jobs.

“We don’t know to what extent we’re losing talent, brilliant people, who just decide upon graduation not to pursue employment in the United States,” said Tornquist. “We’re making it impossible.”

A bill recently introduced in the Senate raises caps on annual temporary work visas and exempts certain jobs from the green-card limits in fields such as science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM.

“So a STEM graduate from a U.S. university with an advanced degree — master’s or above — with a job offer in a science, technology, engineering or math field, would get a green card without waiting,” said Tornquist.

Critics of loosening rules for highly skilled immigrants say many U.S. citizens with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math can’t find jobs in those fields, said John Skrentny, a sociology professor and director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at UC San Diego.

“For example, about 15 million Americans have STEM degrees, but only 5 million work in STEM,” he said. “Where do these STEM workers go? It’s not clear.”

U.S. computer programmers have complained that they are replaced by cheaper foreign workers here on temporary work visas, added Skrentny. “Some also argue that employers refuse to train or retrain American workers and prefer to simply import foreigners who have the needed skills,” he wrote.

Lawmakers last tackled comprehensive immigration reform in 2007. Those efforts largely failed. Qualcomm is hoping for a better outcome this time.

“We really look at this opportunity, with comprehensive immigration reform, as the best chance to get the changes that we think are needed,” said Tornquist.

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Tom K. Wong on Life as an Undocumented Youth (KPBS)

BY MONICA MEDINA   JANUARY 9, 2013

KPBS News

Tom K. Wong is haunted by a childhood memory. It is of being awakened in the middle of the night by his mother, and being taken into the hallway, along with his older brother. There, she held them both tightly and sobbed while helicopters hovered overhead.

“It was bizarre,” says Wong, who still remembers the incident that occurred when he was 10, in their low-income neighborhood in Riverside, California, which was comprised mostly of Mexicans, Salvadorians and Guatemalans. “That night, my mother was really scared. There were helicopters flying around, and lights shining down by our house, but they weren’t there for us. The police were surrounding our neighbors’ house. Yet, it was clear my mother thought the immigration officials were coming to raid our house. I connected the dots later on in life.”


    Wong at age 11. (Tom K. Wong)

For Wong, who today is an assistant professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, connecting the dots included coming to America from Hong Kong with his parents and brother, at the age of two, and staying long after their visas expired. The revelation that he was an undocumented immigrant came when he reached the age of 16. Like most youth at that age, he was eager to get his driver’s license. Instead, he learned that he couldn’t because of his undocumented status, and the news left him reeling or, as he says, “It was like having a bomb dropped on me.”



“A lot of young undocumented immigrants aren’t aware that they’re undocumented,” notes Wong, whose research focuses on the politics of immigration, citizenship, and migrant illegality. “They learn later in life, after they’ve spent a lifetime being a part of the society. In that context, learning that you’re undocumented is completely shattering for one’s identity. At least it was for me. Suddenly, the things I wanted to do I actually couldn’t do because of my identity.”

Besides not being able to apply for a driver’s license, Wong discovered that being undocumented meant he’d have to make other adjustments. Having spent high school enrolled in all Honors and AP (Advanced Placement) classes, he’d now have to put aside his dream of going to college. Instead, he’d join his parents—selling toys at swap meets. He also had to figure out how his new identity as an undocumented immigrant would affect the relationships he’d built with his friends.

“I had to learn to navigate my personal relationships with others,” he says with some regret. “And, I didn’t do it very well. I didn’t tell any of my friends. I felt so lonely and isolated and I had nobody to talk to. I was ashamed. When I finally did tell somebody, I told my best friend, and the response was one that I didn’t expect.”

His best friend stopped speaking to him. But, around this time, when Wong was 18, he started dating Rose Bloomberg-Rissman, a high school classmate who, seeing that he was facing deportation, stepped in to help.

“I don’t think I told her until a couple months into us being a couple,” recalls Wong. “It became real when (in order to become a U.S. citizen) I had to go back to Hong Kong and wait 10 years. I think it was only then that she realized what it meant for me to be undocumented. She proposed to me, though I didn’t say yes right away. It was a tough choice and I was ready to go to Hong Kong.”

But, with their parents’ blessing, they married. Wong, though, wants to make it clear that his decision to marry wasn’t all about the green card. ”Eleven years later, and we’re still married. She’s the mother of my kids (triplet boys). The immediate assumption is that we got married so that I could stay, but I was ready to go.”
Wong, with his wife Rose, and their triplet boys.


Wong, with his wife Rose, and their triplet boys. (Paige Ogilvie)

Today, Wong is trying to help other undocumented youth. He has reached out to students, sharing his story in the hopes that they would come forward and, in turn, share their stories with him. And they have. In droves. The reason, says Wong, is simple.



“So much of this is cathartic. When you hear someone else’s story and you can sort of connect to that person because yours is similar, it is a healing experience. It empowers them. And people instantly want to get more involved. It’s becoming more and more common.”

Wong is also trying to combat assumptions made about undocumented youth. “We have just around 40 million immigrants in the U.S., and about 11 million are undocumented,” he observes. “The face of the undocumented immigrant is Latino, but there’s Asian, Afro-Caribbean, and undocumented people from Canada, France and Australia.”

Studying immigration politics and policy is personal for Wong, something he does in honor of his parents. “As a Chinese family, we aren’t very apt on sharing our feelings with each other. A lot of why I do it, is to show them my appreciation, my acknowledgement that I understand why we came here the way we did and why the struggle growing up was actually worth it.”

He adds, “Recently, I did a press briefing in Los Angeles about undocumented Asians, and my mom called me because she saw an article in a Chinese newspaper saying this is great. Even though we don’t talk about our situation directly, they get why I do this.”

Wong’s experience as an undocumented youth, or former “DREAMer,” as he calls himself, has led him to want to help other undocumented youth get on the path to citizenship. In addition to his work at UCSD, Wong serves as the director of the DREAM Project, a non-profit that collects the oral histories of undocumented students. Largely through his own personal funds, he also is making available 30 private grants of $100 each, to assist students in the costs of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) applications. For more information, contact dacagrant@gmail.com.

Wong is actively involved with the San Diego Dream Team, which plans to host a statewide summit of the California Alliance Dream Team Alliance, the first to be held in San Diego, beginning Friday. The purpose is to strategize for comprehensive immigration reform and other statewide policies.

Wong, who is committed to studying immigration trends and its influence on politics, asserts that immigration will be a major issue in 2013. Which is why for him, his work is just beginning. “It’s a perfect storm for San Diego in a positive way,” he says, “to get people energized and mobilized towards social justice, and I’m just glad to be part of it.”

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