Wilson Hits Clinton on Cuba Policy
Gov. Pete Wilson criticized President Clinton on Thursday for moving quickly to stop Cubans from illegally entering Florida while ignoring the much larger and costlier problem of illegal immigration in California.
At a news conference, Wilson called on Clinton to beef up the Border Patrol and order a blockade in San Diego akin to that used effectively in El Paso.
“What is being declared as an emergency in Florida is dwarfed by what is occurring here,” Wilson told reporters at the UC San Diego Medical Center.
He said that when Clinton ordered the Coast Guard and Navy to turn back Cubans, the number of people attempting to enter Florida illegally was about 500 a day. About three times that many enter the United States illegally every night near San Ysidro.
“It’s not the fault of the Border Patrol,” he said. “It’s the fault of Washington, the President, and the Congress, and it’s time they cure this dereliction of duty.”
White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers said the Clinton Administration has stepped up federal action on California’s illegal immigration problems after years of inattention by Clinton’s predecessors.
She noted increases in the number of Border Patrol officers and said the Clinton Administration “has done more than any prior Administration to help states cope with the costs of immigration.”
The White House, which was faxed a copy of Wilson’s three-page statement, had no immediate comment.
Paul Boeker, director of the Institute of the Americas, a La Jolla-based think tank, said there are some obvious historical reasons Cuban immigration is being handled differently than Mexican immigration.
With Cuba, the United States is trying to topple a Communist dictator; with Mexico, the United States is grappling with a difficult social problem along the border shared with a friendly, democratic nation, Boeker noted in a telephone interview.
“U.S. policy (in Florida) is about Fidel Castro, and not about immigration,” Boeker said. “It is the (result) of a 30-year policy of not supporting in any way the Castro regime. We do not want to take his refugees because we want him to live with the pressures he’s created.”
A border blockade with Mexico as suggested by Wilson, Boeker said, “ignores all the historic and humanitarian complexities of two friendly nations with intertwined economies.”
Illegal immigration promises to be a major issue in Wilson’s reelection fight with Democratic opponent Kathleen Brown.
Half a million people were caught trying to sneak illegally into the United States near the San Diego border last year and Wilson contends that the annual cost of services to illegal immigrants in California is more than $3 billion.
Brown campaign spokesman John Whitehurst said Thursday that, “on the issue of illegal immigration, Pete Wilson is a fraud.”
Whitehurst criticized Wilson’s immigration record in the U.S. Senate, including authorship of an amendment making it easier for illegal immigrants to stay in this country, and intervention with immigration officials on behalf of a hotelier who was under fire for hiring undocumented workers.
Wilson’s campaign said Brown had distorted his Senate record.
On Thursday, Wilson also said he will declare that a state of emergency exists in California because of illegal immigration as soon as the San Diego County Board of Supervisors requests such a declaration.
The supervisors are expected to make that request at a Sept. 20 meeting.
After the Cuban boats began landing in Florida, Gov. Lawton Chiles declared a state of emergency. In ordering the Navy and Coast Guard into action, and reversing a policy of welcoming fleeing Cubans, Clinton cited Chiles’ declaration.
Asked if he is afraid that a border blockade in San Diego might be interpreted by the Mexican government as a hostile act, Wilson said, “If it is, that’s too bad. I’ve got to tell you something: Our duty is to Americans, our duty is to Californians. I make no apologies about that.”
Times staff writer Paul Richter contributed to this report.