Destination El Salvador: Newsom’s first international trip as governor is a counterpoint to Trump

Gov. Gavin Newsom says he’s heading to El Salvador for his first international trip to explore the reasons Central Americans are fleeing their countries. But he’s also aware of the political symbolism of the trip, which is designed to highlight what Democrats regard as California’s more compassionate approach in sharp contrast to the Trump administration’s aversion to the waves of asylum seekers at the U.S. border.

The new governor announced his plans at a Los Angeles health clinic, surrounded by state politicians and community leaders from El Salvador and other Latin America countries. California is home to the largest group of Salvadorans outside of El Salvador, who constitute the largest group of Latino Californians after those from Mexico.

“As a country we’ve lacked a rational policy in Central America, and we are paying the price today,” Newsom said. “You cannot solve the migrant issue by building walls, it is so much more multifaceted and complex. It’s not just violence, it’s not just poverty, it’s about environment and all of these complex issues.”

He said he intends to invite other border-state governors and other leaders across the nation to help “push back against the dominant narrative that is so destructive in this country that the president of the United States has been advancing.”

The morning of Newsom’s announcement, President Trump tweeted his complaint that Mexico and Central American countries aren’t helping him solve what he has described as a border emergency:

While immigration policy is set by the federal government, Newsom said the state can take the lead in understanding and addressing the reasons why people are fleeing their countries, and also help those do arrive in California with shelter and assistance navigating the asylum and immigration system.

He has already allocated $5 million for community organizations that are helping asylum seekers, such as a migrant shelter in San Diego.

Democratic Assemblywoman Wendy Carillo of northeastern Los Angeles, who is the only Salvadoran elected state official, said this is an opportunity for California “to set a tone as to what it really means to be for human rights, LGBT rights, women’s rights—and to really set a new pathway for our state and country’s relationship” with El Salvador.

Central American leaders in Los Angeles said the governor could improve the migration crisis by helping bring more economic opportunity to the region, and working with leaders on the problem of violence.

“The only way we can solve this is looking at this long term, and investing in our country,” El Salvador, said Carlos Vaquerano, executive director of Clinica Monseñor Oscar Romero, where the meeting was held. “A young person that has opportunities and a job and a good education—they have no reason to want to leave.”

Citing the incidence of crime in El Salvador, the U.S. State Department in January again warned U.S. citizens to reconsider visits to the country. The average per-person income is $8,000.

Newsom said he can envision the state establishing programs in El Salvador, and in Central America, to build trade and promote commerce. He said previous governors, including Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown, had robust trade offices in those countries at one time, and he would like to do the same.

“America needs leadership nationally, and California will assert itself if this administration is walking away,” he said.

The governor’s office has not yet publicly released a schedule of Newsom’s four-day trip, with scheduled events beginning April 7.

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