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LA Mayor Offers To Shelter Immigrant Kids, Angering Protesters


Demonstrators across the nation are staging hundreds of protests against illegal immigration this weekend. They reflect a backlash against government resources going to the more than 50,000 unaccompanied minors who have crossed the southern U.S. border in recent months. This week, Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti, announced he'll house some of those miners in L.A. as they await court hearings with funding from the federal government. City resources will not be used. I asked Mayor Garcetti why his city should take this on.

MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI: Well, I think that we have always been a nation that has been defined by and that has been open to immigrants. They've been the strength of our communities. But I don't come to this from a partisan perspective. I come into this as a father and as somebody who sees kids who need to be cared for, who need to be reunified if possible and whose legal needs have to be met. I think that Los Angeles as a city of immigrants should proudly be a part of that.

RATH: Determining the final status of these children could take a while. Immigration hearings can take years to schedule. This take us sort of beyond housing to, you know, schools, health care, other services. Won't this seriously strain city resources over the long-term.

GARCETTI: Well, you know, Los Angeles already faces the broken immigration system and its costs when we can't award scholarships to students who are A-students and have only known the United States but might be undocumented, when we see, you know, emergency room visits and other things. There's no doubt that there's been a strain on local budgets, which is why I think we need comprehensive immigration reform. But this is a different issue here. This is an emergency situation. These are kids first and foremost. And then of course, you know, we do have to go through formal procedures on what will happen with them. I would love to see those things accelerated. I would love them to see, you know, a faster path to citizenship for people who already live here. I would love to see our borders secured, but that shouldn't keep us from action at moments of humanitarian crisis.

RATH: You mentioned that you're trying to do this in a way that does not pull resources away from other needs in the city. But you've been criticized by some homeless charities, one of whom called this a slap in the face for U.S. citizens. What do you say to them?

GARCETTI: Well, ironically yesterday or earlier this week, I was with First Lady Michelle Obama and announced our plans here to end veterans' homelessness and then to attack chronic homelessness here in Los Angeles. As a fellow service member, I'm appalled to see that people who would put on the uniform of this country are sleeping under our bridges, our freeway overpasses, places that they should not be.

RATH: Beyond the veterans, what about the rest of the homeless?

GARCETTI: So the challenge is to end veterans' homelessness by the end of 2015. And next after that, I'll be looking at the chronic homeless population, which we've already made some dents in. I'm looking to the state and federal government, which have cut our housing dollars in recent years, to re-up those as well as for us to locally generate a consistent source of funding to build permanent, supportive housing that won't just get people off the street, but give them the services that they need to stay in those apartments and to stay permanently in housing and to get employed. So we're looking at this in a holistic way so we don't throw money at a problem and people wind up back on the street.

RATH: You said that you're not trying to do this in a partisan way, but as you know, all of this debate has been very politically fraught. And there would be a cynical take that, you know, being in Los Angeles, being in California, it's politically safer for you to make this kind of move than it might be in other places.

GARCETTI: Well, you know, I'm only moved by my conscience and by good management. I'm in charge of running a city. I'm a CEO of a great American city of 4 million people. And I have to do what works. We don't have time to engage in partisan politics. A pothole isn't Republican or Democratic. We have problems to solve. And we certainly see part of our future success as a nation and certainly as a city as being tied to the world. And certainly that's where the investment, jobs and prosperity will come from in the future. That's why I'm so focused on this as a mayor.

RATH: Mayor, what would be your message to potential immigrants or those who are considering potentially risking their children's lives to get them to this country?

GARCETTI: Well, I don't think - the system that we have, it's very wise. And for me, the reason that I'm reaching out is we have children that are here. But I certainly wouldn't encourage people to send their children or for children to cross the border. That's an incredibly dangerous journey. And I'd want people to hear that loud and clear. But just as loud and clear, I think we have an obligation, once we suddenly have children that are in our country here, to be caring about them while we determine their final status.

RATH: Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti, joined me from his office in City Hall. Mayor Garcetti, thanks very much.

GARCETTI: Great pleasure to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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