California 51st District
Anchoring a corner of the continental United States, San Diego not so long ago was a small Navy town known for its good harbor and splendid weather. It of course now is a major metropolis of 1.3 million people and the center of a county of 3 million. To its occasional discomfort, it is also one of the largest cities directly on an international border, situated between countries with strikingly different economic conditions, political systems, and cultural traditions. San Diego sits on the busiest border crossing in the world, and on a daily basis, agents for the Border Patrol play a sometimes-violent cat-and-mouse game with people trying to cross illegally. In 2005, about 127,000 were apprehended in the San Diego area, but many more crossed the border without being captured. In 2006, authorities found a sophisticated tunnel dug under the border for drug running. Recently, tougher enforcement in California shifted some of the illegal crossings to Arizona.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Thousands of legal workers cross the border daily to reach the industrial zone on San Diego’s southern edge, on brown hills in Otay Mesa and San Ysidro, and the industrial suburbs of Chula Vista and National City. Many children from Mexico cross daily to attend public and private schools. Latinos pour billions into the San Diego economy and are scattered in various parts of the city, in the southern corridor, and in Encanto and Chollas Park in the eastern section. Oddly, there is not much evidence of Mexican style in San Diego—less than in Los Angeles.
The 51st Congressional District of California covers California’s entire border with Mexico, including the southeast corner of San Diego, and also National City and Chula Vista. The district extends east to the Arizona border and includes all of Imperial County, with its string of farms and towns running south from the Salton Sea to Mexicali, Mexico. Water comes from the Colorado River through the All-American Canal. (A project begun in 2007 to line a 23-mile segment of the canal with concrete to decrease the flow of water to farmers in Mexico stirred controversy.) With farmland being turned into moderately priced subdivisions, rapidly growing Imperial County in 2007 had 162,000 people, 76% of them Hispanic. Imperial is also being considered as a site for a new airport. El Centro, the county seat of Imperial, had 22% unemployment in 2009—the highest in the nation—resulting from drought, the decline of the Mexican peso, and the national recession. Hispanics are a majority in the district, which was created to be solidly Democratic. In 2004, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry won 53% of the district’s vote, and in 2008 Democrat Barack Obama won 63%.