In recent months, young undocumented immigrants have received a series of ambiguous, contradictory messages from President Donald Trump. He said to rest easy, plan to leave the country because the program that gave them temporary relief from deportation was ending – and then urged, once again, to rest easy, because the program could be back on.

The conversation has a particular resonance in border communities like San Diego. An estimated 40,000 young people here either have DACA protections or would qualify. Those numbers come from Alliance San Diego, which advocates for greater protections for undocumented immigrants and less militarization of the border.

Itzel Guillen, a program manager with Alliance San Diego, is one of those “Dreamers” brought to the United States without papers as a child. She said nearly half of all DACA recipients reside in border region, where they already face increased scrutiny from federal agents patrolling the border.

She equated efforts to couple DACA protections with increased border security measures with “a sinister form of blackmail.”

“As a border Dreamer, I cannot accept any bill that trades our safety for that of our parents,” Guillen said.

Alliance San Diego and other immigrant rights advocates are pushing for a clean DREAM Act bill – one that provides a pathway to citizenship and isn’t tied to increased border security. During a Friday morning press call, advocates promised to fight any attempts to combine the two efforts.

DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, provides an estimated 800,000 young immigrants with temporary relief from deportation. While it’s hard to say exactly where those students attend school – due partly to the fact that some colleges and universities will not release the numbers – an estimated 30 percent live in California.

The protection DACA offers isn’t permanent or guaranteed. Recipients have to meet certain requirements to qualify for it, and have to apply to renew after two years. To qualify, young people must have arrived in the United States before they turned 16, must have lived continuously in the country since 2007 and must have entered before June 2012. They must be currently enrolled in school, or have graduated or earned a GED. They can’t have been convicted of felony or three misdemeanors.

DACA recipients say it’s given them the ability to stay in school, go on to earn advanced degrees, buy their first car and get better-paying jobs. Survey results compiled by Tom Wong, a UC San Diego researcher and political science professor, bear out the numbers.

On the other side of the spectrum, conservative immigration hawks have argued the program only incentivizes illegal immigration and equates to a kind of amnesty.

On the campaign trail, Trump put the program in its crosshairs, promising to “immediately terminate” the program.

And it appeared Trump made good on that promise earlier this month when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that DACA recipients whose status will expire before March only have until Oct. 5 to renew their protections. Federal officials have said they will not grant further renewals.

Last week, Democrats emerged from a dinner with Trump to announce they reached a handshake deal on DACA – one that would not be tied to funding a new border wall. White House staffers contracted the announcement.

In short, it’s been a hot mess. But the territory is not altogether unfamiliar. Young, undocumented immigrants have been a political football for the past 16 years, when the first comprehensive immigration reform bill came forward. At the time, it enjoyed bipartisan support.

It’s important to note that while DACA recipients have had temporary relief from deportation, the program provided them with no pathway to permanent authorized residency or citizenship. It was essentially a bridge to nowhere.

In the meantime, lawmakers have started jockeying to reach a deal on legislation. While DACA’s fate is still uncertain, several bills have garnered support from both sides of the aisle. That means a clean Dream Act bill will compete for support with similar bills being floated.

But Alliance San Diego and other immigrant rights advocates have been clear: They don’t plan on compromising on their push for deportation protection that isn’t tied to increased funding for the border wall, or hiring more border agents.

California as a ‘Sanctuary State’

On Saturday, lawmakers in California passed the so called “sanctuary state” bill, which increases protections for undocumented immigrants by limiting the degree to which local law enforcement can cooperate with federal authorities for the purposes of enforcement immigration law. The Los Angeles Times calls the measure, formally known as the California Values Act, the most far-reaching of its kind in the country.

Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign it.

Initially, law enforcement representatives vociferously opposed the bill, written by state Sen. Kevin de León, arguing that it would make communities less safe. Conversely, advocates for immigrant rights argued the bill would actually make cities safer because it will build trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities. They would be more likely to report crimes.

But with amendments to the bill, one that allows federal authorities to continue entering county jails to question immigrants, the bill made it past the Legislature.

Among the most significant changes the legislation would bring, sheriff’s departments will no longer be allowed to provide office space to ICE within jails. ICE agents, however, would retain the ability to interview inmates and will have access to databases for the purposes of immigration enforcement. The bill also prohibits law enforcement agencies from asking about an individual’s immigration status or detaining or arresting them for the purposes of immigration enforcement.

Local law enforcement, however, will still be allowed to participate in federally funded task forces, provided the purpose of the task force is not to enforce immigration law.

This type of cooperation can have collateral consequences. Just last month, a San Diego County Sheriff’s deputies conducted a traffic stop near Mission Bay. Those deputies contacted Border Patrol agents, who arrived on scene to detain the driver and his wife, who were undocumented.

The San Diego Sheriff’s Department has a policy not to stop, detain or question people on their immigration status, but also claimed they didn’t violate the policy by contacting Border Patrol about the couple.

Border Patrol Under Fire

While lawmakers in Washington eye increased border security measures, including hiring more border agents, it’s been a tough couple weeks for Border Patrol agents in the news.

Last week, ABC released a report that included a number of allegations of abuse and sexual assaults on children. The report was pegged to documents released by a federal judge in Arizona, where the ACLU has been fighting for documents that describe allegations of abuse against minors.

The story includes an anecdote about a girl who was stopped and detained while she and her boyfriend drove east from Encinitas to the mountains. Border Patrol agents, she said, slapped her on the buttocks, interrogated her, threatened to rape her and pressured her to sign a voluntarily order of departure, or deportation order.

Her allegations are in line with other complaints minors made against Border Patrol agents. The complaints – which come from Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California – detail accusations made between early 2009 and mid-2015. They include allegations of sexual assault – such as agents groping minors’ thighs or genitals or making sexual remarks and threats – and allegations of verbal and physical abuse.

A San Diego Border Patrol spokesman referred me to a statement the agency issued in the story, which read:

“An investigation conducted into the complainant’s allegations revealed no evidence of inappropriate or threatening behavior by CBP personnel. CBP takes all allegations of mistreatment seriously, and does not tolerate actions that are not consistent with our core values of Vigilance, Service to Country and Integrity.”

Mitra Ebadolahi, a staff attorney for ACLU’s border litigation project, said the report underscores the need for greater transparency. Ebadolahi played a key role in fighting for the release of the documents.

“To the extent that there are conversations right now about protecting Dreamers and honoring the contributions they make to our society, to talk about trading that for border security is something few people understand beyond the abstract. This shows what it could be like without proper accountability, without proper oversight and with lax hiring standards,” said Ebadolahi.

Border Wall Construction to Start

Construction is getting under way on the border wall prototypes, the first stage of the Trump administration’s promise to add hundreds of miles of new wall to our southern border. The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that as of last week fencing has gone up to protect the construction site – though views of any construction are obstructed by a green screen and Customs and Border Protection signs.

The agency is also preparing for possible protests that could happen when construction begins. Though it has no role in construction, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department is discussing plans to set up a designated protest area.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of polluted water continues to pour over the border from the south, just as it has every month this year.

“The continued flows come in the wake of a massive spill in Tijuana that polluted beaches as far north as Coronado in February. The contamination came as sewer pipes cracked and manhole covers bubble over amid winter storms, which caused 256 million gallons of wastewater to go unaccounted for south of the border,” reports the Union-Tribune.

Binational Buddies

One Bengal tiger cub had what was likely a very confusing day in August when he was seized by Customs and Border Protection agents at the Otay Mesa U.S. port of entry, then transferred to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, where he’s been since.

The male cub is reportedly doing fine, and from the beginning engaged in tiger-like activities like wrestling and practicing stalking. He’s eight to nine weeks old and is currently being bottle-fed a special carnivore formula made for exotic animals. He’s also being introduced to some chunked-chicken and a meat-based carnivore diet that they serve the big cats at the Safari Park, said Darla Davis, a public relations rep for San Diego Zoo.

And since he’s been at the zoo, the Bengal cub has received a new playmate, a Sumatran tiger cub flown in from Washington D.C. because his mother grew hostile with him during nursing. The two quickly became buddies.

“When the two were physically introduced, they showed signs of curiosity and affection. They immediately began to play, wrestle, cuddle and groom each other – all signs of natural sibling behavior. They are continuing that behavior which tells us they are getting along very well,” Davis said.

The Bengal cub was brought to the zoo after he was seized at the Otay Mesa port of entry in August, when 18 year-old Luis Eudoro Valencia, of Perris, California was arrested and charged with smuggling and unlawful importation of wildlife. Valencia was trying to bring the cub into the country without requisite paperwork. (Tigers, too, must be documented.)

According to the complaint, Valencia purchased the tiger cub for $300 from someone he spotted walking a full-sized tiger on a leash in Tijuana.

The Bengal cub is part of a criminal investigation and the zoo is caring for him in the meantime. Whether he’ll remain is up to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. Both tiger cubs currently reside at the Safari Park’s Animal Care Nursery and you can see them in the special care nursery window from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The story shows that that even different subspecies from different sides of the border can make fast friends in times of polarized rhetoric.

And Finally, Allow Me to Introduce Myself

If you subscribe to this newsletter or read regularly, you’ll note you’ve got a new pilot, here. My name is Mario Koran. For the past four years, I’ve covered schools and education for VOSD. I’m happy to pick up on the great work my pal Brooke Binkowski has been doing.

Binkowski did a bang-up job bringing you news about what’s happening on both sides of the border. I hope to do the same, while keeping an eye on what’s changing when it comes to immigration enforcement, and how that’s playing out in San Diego neighborhoods.

I’m still fairly new to the immigration beat, and big, complicated news is breaking fast on the regular. This is also the first time Voice of San Diego has devoted a full-time reporter to covering border and immigration issues. So as I get this beat up and running, here are two things you could do to help me.

Tip me: Have any ideas on what I should be digging into or who I should be talking to? Let me know what you want to read in our coverage by writing me at or follow me on Twitter at @MarioKoran.

Send in your photos: If you take or find any pictures of interesting happenings in the area – a cool restaurant in Tijuana, border art, or anything that showcases our dynamic region – send it to me to be included in this biweekly border report. I look forward to what we’ll find in the months ahead.

Mario Koran

Mario was formerly an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego. He wrote about schools, children and people on the margins of San Diego.

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