Q&A: Former LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa talks state of politics, immigration

Dec. 1, 2017, 1:22 a.m.

As part of a discussion held by Stanford Democrats on Thursday, former mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa talked to audience members on immigration law, California politics and public service. The Daily sat down with Villaraigosa, who is one of the Democratic candidates running for Governor of California, to chat about why he thinks “politics is broken” and what Stanford students can do to help fix it.

The Stanford Daily (TSD): Some students are feeling unsafe with recent immigration policy and the Trump administration’s repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Could you talk to me a little bit about your thoughts on immigration policy and how students who are affected by the repeal should be feeling?

Antonio Villaraigosa (AV): Our immigration system is broken: We need to fix it. We need to take responsibility for what we’ve created in this country, which is an immigration system that — no matter what side of the aisle you are on — most people believe is broken. DACA arose out of a broken immigration system. We had all of these young people who came with their parents [and] know no country other than this one, and they were treated as if they had crossed without documentation. We weren’t taking advantage of their talents and their energy, of their willingness to work. So DACA came out of this, not just a broken immigration system, but the failure of both parties to fix it.

The President did an executive action, which said if you’re working, if you come here before [age] 16, and you’re not old enough, and you’re working or going to school, you can apply for an extended stay. We’ve seen there are young Dreamers here at Stanford, at Berkeley, at Harvard, at UCLA, at USC; they’re contributing mightily to our country. They’re buying homes, starting businesses, defending our country. I think it’s really important that those young people know that in this state, we’re going to stand up for them. We’re going to work to make sure they have the resources they need to complete their education. We’re going to stand up for the notion that we have to fix that broken immigration system instead of denying our state and the nation the talent they provide. So, my vantage point: I understand that fear. Your vote counts — not everyone is impacted equally with the new policies coming from Washington D.C. and this administration — but if you’re a Dreamer or you’re undocumented, you feel the difference. My hope is that saner voices will prevail, but there is very little indication that will happen, from the rhetoric we see coming out of Washington D.C..

TSD: How important is it for young students to continue pursuing higher education?

AV: There are students who come from very affluent communities and then some students who come from very impoverished ones, and I think what many young people feel right now is uncertainty about the future. It used to be that buying a home was part of the American dream. Now, just trying to get an apartment or a mobile home, a place to live, we’re seeing [that] people graduating with degrees can’t find jobs in their areas of expertise or a good paying job with a college degree. I think there is good reason to feel some trepidation.

On the same token, I think we also need to understand that one way to address that trepidation is to make the economy work for more people, to educate and train more people for the jobs of the 21st century, which require intellectual capital, and I think that we need to look at – in this world that we’re disrupting so much with technology and the shared economy — what we do to retrain and reinvent the value of certain work.

I also have a lot of confidence in this generation — hearing the young students today. It’s a generation that cares a lot about others. It’s a generation of others who are less fortunate. It’s a generation that wants to change the world. That’s good; we should encourage that, celebrate it.

TSD: Finding housing in the area, both for students, faculty, staff and others in the local area, is difficult with increasing costs of living. How can future leaders handle the crisis of finding housing, and why should we start caring as undergrads?

AV: I think we’ve got to recognize that this is not just a problem, not even just a crisis — it’s a disaster. We’re not building enough housing. We’re pricing the middle class out of housing. The state needs to partner with cities and counties that are putting up their own money. They need to have a plan for homeless housing, workforce housing and affordable housing; workforce as professors, teachers, librarians, cops and firefighters; transit-oriented development in building density, downtown, transportation corridors in the like.

Finally, a plan to reduce the time it takes to approve that housing. Costs increase the longer it takes to approve. Bring back redevelopment, giving cities about a billion dollars a year to invest in housing. I like the notion of putting together kind of a cap and trade program for housing that addresses that this is a crisis and says, in those communities that don’t want to build that kind of housing, that they have to give to a fund, so we can build that housing. Nobody should care about that more than people at Stanford, UCLA, Cal State LA and community colleges because that was always part of the social compact. You work hard, get an education, play by the rules; you have enough to live a life of dignity and to have a piece of the rock.

TSD: How can Stanford students go out and fix broken politics in the world?

AV: I think we need people who are idealistic about the world, optimistic and bold, creative about taking on the challenges that we face. We need people who are willing to listen to one another and work with people who they don’t necessarily agree with. We need to be focused on trying new things that work. This institution is nurturing and developing the best and the brightest, many of whom want to change the world. I think it’s important to include those voices and take on these challenges with the vigor and the tenacity that the magnitude of the challenges we face require.


This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.


Contact Gillian Brassil at gbrassil ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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