New San Diego government office aims to speak immigrants’ language

A smiling woman sits at a picnic table alongside a young boy.
Lucrecia Puac Hernandez, an immigrant from Guatemala, with son Anderson Molina, at Ruben Salazar Park in Los Angeles in early August. Her deportation case was recently dropped.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Oct. 6. I’m Hamed Aleaziz. I cover immigration policy and just joined the paper this summer. I live in Sonoma County.

Before coming to The Times, I was at BuzzFeed News, where I covered immigration and the Department of Homeland Security. That neatly segued to my new role, where I focus on the DHS and other agencies and examine how immigrants are coping with issues such as the shifting policies of different presidential administrations.

For example, in August, we detailed how the Biden administration was making sweeping changes at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after former President Trump’s tenure and how that was affecting immigrants in California. (Read more here: “The Biden administration remade ICE after Trump: But will it last?”)

More recently, I read in our sister paper the San Diego Union Tribune about how San Diego’s Office of Immigrant Affairs was leading an effort to write welcome notes in 15 languages to newly arrived refugees and asylum seekers. The office was established in July. I reached out to Rita Fernandez, head of the office, to talk about the work they do and the state of immigration in her city. The conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.


What’s next and what do you hope to do for immigrants in San Diego?

We are creating a number of different initiatives to help our immigrant residents, which represent one-quarter of our overall population. We are putting together initiatives around expanding language access in the city, so that our city departments have a number of different translation tools at their disposal — so that our foreign-born communities when they reach out to the city are able to communicate with us in their language. We are also putting together initiatives around naturalization, know-your-rights presentations and also economic opportunity and financial literacy. What we are really seeking to do is to provide vital resources to immigrants — those who have been here for years, for decades, and maybe they are eligible to naturalize and become U.S. citizens, as well as to refugees who have recently resettled here.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has released data detailing how there is an increase in encounters at the border. Have you as a city noticed an uptick or changes at the border?

Being a border city, we’re on the forefront and frontlines of immigrant integration and welcoming immigrants. We have for many years seen an increase in asylum seekers, since back in 2015. We saw an increase in unaccompanied minors at the border [in 2021]. At the time, our convention center was closed to events, so we used it as a temporary shelter for unaccompanied minors. Regardless of what trends we’re seeing, I think San Diego, certainly because of our geography, we are always at the forefront of working with those populations.

[Note: The Union-Tribune wrote about the transformation of the convention center into a temporary home filled with “rows of cots, hula hoops, soccer nets and ping pong tables,” a place where “teenage girls’ voices ... filled the exhibit halls with banda songs and laughter.” Read more here.]

Immigration has become a divisive issue nationally; have you seen that in San Diego?


Referring back to the example that I used about the unaccompanied minors coming to our region — I think we were initially concerned about that, that there might be some anti-immigrant sentiment. But the reaction from our community was overwhelmingly positive. People would contact our office to find out how they could volunteer, how they could donate items. Everyone stepped up — from our school districts to our county government to our nonprofits and civil society, the private sector, the arts as well — [seemingly] everyone stepped in to welcome these folks. It was really inspiring to see that.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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Beachgoers, beware. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health found that four area beaches — Santa Monica Pier, Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey, the 40th Street extension in Manhattan Beach and the Manhattan Beach Pier — were shown in tests to have high levels of bacteria in the water. Los Angeles Times

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Appeals court orders another look at revised DACA program. The court on Wednesday ordered a lower court review of Biden administration revisions to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, which prevents the deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought into the United States as children. The ruling for now leaves the future of DACA up in the air. Los Angeles Times

Two-thirds of California voters say Trump should be prosecuted if there’s enough evidence. A new poll has found that many California voters believe prosecutors should move forward with the prosecution of former President Trump if they have evidence of crimes. The poll also found that President Biden’s approval rating in the state was going up, from 48% in August to 52%. Los Angeles Times


Alec Baldwin settles lawsuit with family of cinematographer. The family of Halyna Hutchins, who was killed on the set of the movie “Rust” in New Mexico, and the actor have settled a wrongful-death lawsuit. Baldwin and the production still face lawsuits in Los Angeles and New Mexico. Los Angeles Times

Inmate killed at state prison in Northern California. The 36-year-old inmate, who was serving multiple life terms at the state prison in Sacramento, was attacked by two men and died Tuesday afternoon, according to prison officials. Sacramento Bee

Stockton police work on possible serial killer case. Officials were continuing to investigate after a series of shootings were linked, but solving the case will be challenging. The Chronicle writes: “Experts say they’ll need a great tip, a great break or a lucky mistake by the shooter to solve the case.” San Francisco Chronicle

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As Salton Sea faces ecological collapse, a plan to save it with ocean water is rejected. An idea to move desalinated ocean water to the struggling lake was rejected by a state-appointed panel, which said it was too costly and would take too long. Los Angeles Times


Mountain lion sightings are on the rise. A San Luis Obispo hiking spot was closed after multiple mountain lion sightings. This article — the details of which may or may not terrify the person writing this newsletter — looks at why sightings are on the rise. Said one expert: Cougars “don’t have a ton of space, and that can affect them.”

43 things to do in California. This list of Golden State experiences is exactly what you need to inspire you for your next fall getaway or weekend plans. As I am biased toward the northern part of our state, I especially appreciated the shoutout to San Francisco’s classic North Beach neighborhood and the recommendation of Molinari Delicatessen, makers of incredible sandwiches. Los Angeles Times

The Iran diaspora rises up. My colleagues Asal Ehsanipour and Sarah Parvini have recorded an important podcast that outlines the protests in Iran in the aftermath of the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of Iran’s morality police, as well as how the diaspora in California and across the U.S. is handling the protests. Los Angeles Times

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Los Angeles: sunny, 81. San Diego: cloudy, 71. San Francisco: sunny, 70. San Jose: sunny, 79. Fresno: sunny, 90. Sacramento: sunny, 90.


Today’s California memory is from Vicki Snyder-Sonstegard:

I grew up on the East Coast listening to the California surfing sound like the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. At 22 years old, I drove my convertible VW bug and moved from the Washington, D.C., area to Los Angeles and thought I’d landed in Camelot: palm trees, the Pacific Ocean, Hollywood and the weather! It was a completely different city than it is now, with very little nightlife and a LOT less people. My first place was sharing a house in Studio City with orange trees blooming outside my window in February. It was a wonderful time to arrive in Southern California!

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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