San Diego Union Tribune

March 24, 2006

Sanders states San Diego's case at talks in Washington
Illegal immigrants, terror funding cited

By Dana Wilkie

WASHINGTON – In his first trip to the nation's capital since winning election, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders met with President Bush yesterday to discuss the impact that illegal immigrants are having on his border city.

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders (second from left) was among the officials who met with President Bush yesterday in Washington to discuss immigration reform. Sanders also met with an official from the Homeland Security Department to try better positioning the city to receive federal anti-terrorism grants.
The mayor, who like Bush is a Republican, also met with Homeland Security Department officials to get a sharper picture of the criteria used to award federal anti-terrorism grants for which the city is no longer eligible.

A mayoral spokesman said the president invited Sanders to the meeting in the White House's Roosevelt Room because of his past experience as a police chief and because of the many illegal immigrants who cross the border in San Diego.

“I told him San Diego had a large population of undocumented people . . . a shadow group, and if they could register in a guest-worker program and come out of the shadow, they could participate more in the community and maybe someday have hope of becoming citizens,” said Sanders, who described his first-ever meeting with Bush as “pretty exciting.”

Also participating in the White House meeting were Vice President Dick Cheney, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and about a dozen other people, including representatives of charitable and religious organizations and of businesses that rely heavily on illegal-immigrant labor, such as hotels, landscapers, and fruit and vegetable growers. Nearly all of them endorse sweeping legalization, which they call “earned adjustment” because of the conditions it would impose, but which critics condemn as an amnesty.

Bush called the immigration debate “critical” for the country and urged participants to conduct themselves kindly.

“It must be done in a way that doesn't pit people against each other,” he said.

Sanders' visit comes shortly before a key Senate committee takes up legislation that would legalize millions of people in the United States and build channels for annual flows of hundreds of thousands of temporary workers.

On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to cast a pivotal vote on this immigration reform proposal. That bill contrasts sharply with a bill passed late last year in the House of Representatives that focuses on enforcement and does not address the guest-worker issue. Sanders said he has not endorsed any reform legislation before Congress.

“I enjoyed hearing what the president had to say, because I think what he's bringing to this is a way for people to become U.S. citizens at some point without providing amnesty, but recognizing the need for guest workers,” said the mayor, who arrived in the capital Wednesday night and returned to San Diego yesterday afternoon. He said registration would be an important factor, so authorities would know who is entering the country.

After returning to San Diego, Sanders acknowledged that many conservative Republicans are critical of legalization and guest-worker plans.

“I don't care how conservative or liberal you are, we need to face up that there are 12 million of these people living in the United States,” he said.

At a separate meeting yesterday in Washington with a Homeland Security Department official, Sanders sought to better understand the factors the department uses when deciding which cities are eligible for anti-terrorism grants under the federal Urban Areas Security Initiative.

San Diego won nearly $15 million in such grants in 2005, but has been told it can no longer apply for the money because it is not among the nation's high-risk areas.

Sanders, county supervisors, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the region's House delegation and California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein have asked the department to reconsider San Diego's eligibility. The department agreed earlier this month to meet with city officials to analyze the data that were used to drop San Diego.

The mayor said he left yesterday's meeting with few specifics. But he received assurances that when he returns to Washington next week for a longer trip, “we would know very clearly what they are basing the grants on, so we can word our grant (proposal) in a way so we can participate.”

The risk factors considered in the grant-awarding process include the history of threats against an area, its population and the presence of important commercial and transportation facilities.

Copley News Service correspondent Jerry Kammer and Union-Tribune staff writer Leslie Berestein contributed to this report.

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