CHULA VISTA, Calif. (Border Report) — A little more than three years ago, the city of Chula Vista, the second-largest in San Diego County, became the first municipality in California to be certified as a “Welcoming City.”
The title is handed out by Welcoming America, a group based in Nashville, Tennessee.
According to its website, in order to become a Welcoming City, a city must be “much more than being friendly, tolerant, or peaceful. We believe that truly welcoming places have intentional, inclusive policies, practices, and norms that enable all residents to live, thrive, and contribute fully — including immigrants.”
At the time, the City of Chula Vista said it was “proud to be one of the cities leading the charge and setting the standard for embracing immigrants and refugees.”
Since then, the city has lost the designation.
Last year, Maria Kachadoorian, Chula Vista’s city manager, did not submit paperwork in order to receive the certification for another three-year term.
According to a spokesperson for Chula Vista, the city manager decided to focus on other efforts, and that the city remains committed to inclusion.
“(Kachadoorian) made the decision not to pursue Welcoming City recertification because of staff priorities to launch development of the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) program and the effort to create the city’s Privacy Protection and Technology Transparency Policy. The ongoing efforts of these programs include immigrant inclusion strategies that will expand the city’s commitment to our immigrant communities,” a city statement said.
Pedro Rios, a migrant advocate with the American Friends Service Committee based in San Diego, says the city would’ve likely lost the certification along the way because of what the Chula Vista Police Department was doing.
“They were sharing private information with the Department of Homeland Security, Border Patrol and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), which meant they would not have qualified,” said Rios.
According to KPBS, Welcoming America was notified and had expressed concerns with the city about the police department’s practice of sharing private information related to migrants and non-U.S. citizens with the federal government.
“It is important for local city officials to say we want to pronounce ourselves in support, in favor of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers,” Rios said.
Rios would like the city to reapply for the certification, something that is being considered.
“We’re trying to understand if we are a welcoming city in spite of the certification,” said Jose Preciado, Chula Vista’s deputy mayor.
Preciado told Border Report, he is new to the council and doesn’t really know what transpired when the city lost the designation.
He and a fellow council member have formed an Ad Hoc committee to look into the matter and to see whether residents want the city to go after the “Welcoming City” status once again.
“I’m making sure we have the police and the procedures here in the city that we can affirm to our citizenry that we in fact are inclusive, diverse and supportive and respectful of everyone,” said Preciado.
He also stated it’s important for the public to be involved in the process.
“We have the citizenry that has expertise, that are advocates and we need to listen to them to understand better what we’re missing.”
According to Preciado, once they gather public input, a decision will be made in a few months.