Destination El Salvador: Newsom's First International Trip As Governor Is A Counterpoint to Trump

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Gov. Gavin Newsom and his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, at Clinica Monseñor Oscar Romero, a Los Angeles clinic founded by Salvadorans, where he discussed his upcoming trip to El Salvador. (Elizabeth Aguilera/CALmatters)

Gov. Gavin Newsom said he plans to travel to El Salvador next month on a fact-finding mission to learn more about the factors driving Central Americans to flee their countries.

Newsom announced his plans, the international trip he'll take as governor, at a Los Angeles health clinic on Thursday, surrounded by state politicians and community leaders from El Salvador and other Latin American countries. California is home to the largest group of Salvadorans outside of El Salvador.

The trip is packed with political symbolism: It’s designed to highlight what Democrats regard as California's more compassionate approach to newcomers, in sharp contrast to the Trump administration's aversion to the waves of asylum seekers at the U.S. border.

“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.”

Newsom said he intends to invite other border-state governors and 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."

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The morning of Newsom’s announcement, President Trump tweeted his oft-mentioned 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 who arrive in California navigate the complicated 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 Carrillo, D-Los Angeles, a Salvadoran native, said this is an opportunity for the state “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 local leaders to reduce the out-of-control levels of violence driving people away.

“The only way we can solve this is looking at this long term and investing in (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 high incidence of crime in El Salvador, one of the poorest and most violent countries in the world, the U.S. State Department in January again warned U.S. citizens about visiting the country.

Newsom said he can envision the state establishing programs in El Salvador, and across 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.

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policy and politics.