In his first public remarks about recent border crossings by young immigrants into the United States, Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday called children fleeing violence in Central America a “human tragedy” and accused critics of exploiting the situation for political gain.
“It’s very easy to take a problem that is difficult and start pointing fingers,” the Democratic governor told an American Federation of Teachers convention in Los Angeles. “Wait a minute. We’ve got a human tragedy here. We’ve got kids whose throats are being slashed in El Salvador and Honduras and Guatemala.”
Brown said nothing specific about management of the influx of immigrants or the controversy surrounding their arrival, urging only a bipartisan effort to address the broader immigration issue. The prospect of comprehensive immigration changes has stalled for years in Washington.
“We’ve got a problem, and the only way we solve it is if Republicans and Democrats, if congressmen and congresswomen, work with the president to deal with a very difficult problem,” Brown said. “It’s a human problem, not a problem for the next politician jumping on board to get himself ahead.”
Brown’s remarks came two days after a California assemblywoman representing Murrieta, a flashpoint for protests and busloads of immigrants passing through, urged the governor to come to her district and outline a plan.
Immigration policy is primarily a federal matter, and California is not responsible for transporting or caring for the immigrant minors. Yet Brown has previously said the state could be a leader for national action on immigration.
His state Office of Emergency Services said earlier this week that the administration has been coordinating with federal and local law enforcement officials, including providing assistance with crowd and traffic control.
Brown said Friday that California is a destination for immigrants because they think the state is “great.”
“By the way, they may come in through Texas because they have so many holes in the border down there, but they usually want to get over to California as fast as they can because stuff is happening here,” Brown said.
He added, “I’m not saying I’m encouraging that. I’m not.”
Neel Kashkari, the Republican bidding to unseat Brown in the November election, called the governor’s comments “empty.”
“He acknowledged there’s a crisis,” Kashkari said. “I agree, so what else are you going to do, governor?”
With Brown addressing a major teachers union, Kashkari was in Los Angeles to press Brown on a high-profile education issue – the Los Angeles Superior Court ruling last month declaring California’s teacher dismissal rules unconstitutional.
In a closely watched case, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled California’s rules for teacher tenure and dismissal deprive students of their constitutional right to a quality education by keeping inferior teachers in classrooms.
The judge wrote in Vergara v. California that there is “no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently in California classrooms.”
Brown last month signed legislation accelerating the teacher firing process in California. But he has faced pressure to address the Vergara case directly.
Senate Republican leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, urged Brown in a letter Thursday not to appeal the ruling. Kashkari, who also wants the state to drop the case, said Brown is “ignoring the civil rights of poor, minority kids.”
Call David Siders, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1215. Follow him on Twitter @davidsiders.