The following is a transcript of an interview with San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg that aired on “Face the Nation” on July 30, 2023.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to the ongoing heatwave, which has put much of the southeastern United States under dangerous heat alerts from Florida to Texas. San Antonio has set a record high heat index this month. And its Mayor, Ron Nirenberg joins us with more. Good morning to you, Mr. Mayor.
MAYOR RON NIRENBERG: Morning, Margaret.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What has been the impact of this high heat? The demand for electricity? What is it doing to your community?
MAYOR NIRENBERG: Well we continue to set records every week with respect to electric- electricity demand. Our emergency calls for heat exhaustion, heat illness are up 50% since last year, which itself was a record breaker. So it is a dangerous heatwave that we’re experiencing with- with just an unrelenting day after day heat exposure. So we’re certainly grateful for a president now that’s treating this heatwave with the urgency that I think is necessary. Especially given the fact that one of the challenges that we have is, cities in Texas are fighting our legislature and our state government for local control. We’re trying to protect residents and workers, and they are doing everything they can to prevent that from happening.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You’re talking about President Biden making it now, through the Department of Labor, a heat hazard alert, so it will guarantee workers heat related protections. But I wonder in- in San Antonio, are you actually seeing employers deny outdoor workers water breaks?
MAYOR NIRENBERG: Well, we had a case that actually is in the courts now last year where a young man died from heat exposure. But the challenge for us is, again, we need to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to ensure that employees are aware of their rights, and that federal protections are known to the employers. And so we were contemplating an ordinance at the local level to mandate local water breaks, similar to what has been done in other cities. Legislation has been passed that purports to prevent local governments from doing that labor code, as well as preventing us from, you know, utilizing our local authority in many other areas. But again, what we’re trying to do is make sure that there’s a backstop to prevent the most vulnerable members, the workers in our community who deserve those basic things.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So this was- you’re talking about the fight you have with the state of Texas where there are rules limiting your ability locally to set regulations that would allow for water breaks. But it doesn’t outlaw them, it just- I guess the governor has justified it saying that there are federal guarantees already. Why aren’t those federal guarantees sufficient?
MAYOR NIRENBERG: Well, what the announcement from President Biden will do is make sure that employers and employees know their rights, that there are protections in place also to ramp up enforcement activities through OSHA. But the reality of the legislation I mentioned is the fact that HB 2127, which was passed by the legislature, upends 70 plus years of local authorities that have been adopted through city constitution, city charters, in cities all across the state. In areas that go beyond just labor code, property code, agricultural code, commercial code. You know, local communities, local governments, are solving problems brought to us many times by our constituents, and legislation like that upends that process and prevents local residents from able- being able to address their concerns through the local governments that they elect. And I believe it’s an affront to our democratic process. And that’s why we’re challenging it in court.
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. So that will continue that sounds like. I want to ask you as well about immigration. A federal judge in California, just struck down last Tuesday, the Biden administration’s restrictions on migrants seeking asylum arguing that it was the Biden administration violating federal law. So if the Justice Department loses an expected appeal, what’s the practical impact for a city like yours in this heat, with the migrants that are crossing?
MAYOR NIRENBERG: Sure, well, since January 2021, San Antonio has seen like many other big cities, a surge in migrants and in San Antonio, it’s- it’s over 400,000 migrants since 2021. While we don’t have authority to reform the immigration policies in America, what we are doing is treating people with compassion. And so we have worked with the Biden administration, with the Department of Homeland Security, to be able to fund a migrant resource center where we help folks who are coming through our city on their way to their sponsor families or to the next destination as they wait for their asylum hearings. The process now, we have to make sure that folks are getting their hearings, but they also have an opportunity to work in the meantime. So while you know we are in the midst of the further politicization and demagoguery that’s happening in Texas with respect to the immigration crisis, I do have to thank folks who are trying to take one step forward in the absence of congressional action that we’ve been waiting for for 30 years. Our representative Tony Gonzalez has offered some legislation that would expand the work visa process. The reality is people are coming. While we don’t have the authority to fix immigration at the local level, we do have an obligation to treat people with common humanity and dignity.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, Mr. Mayor, thank you for your time today. We’re gonna have to leave it there, but we’ll be back with more Face the Nation in a moment.