BY KATHLEEN RONAYNE, SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he will travel to El Salvador in April to discuss the poverty and violence that’s causing waves of migrants to seek asylum in the United States.
It will be Newsom’s first international trip as governor and his latest effort to position California — not the White House — as the leader on the nation’s toughest issues.
The announcement Thursday came days after U.S. and Central American leaders signed a new border security compact. Still, President Donald Trump said Thursday that foreign leaders were “doing nothing” to stop the flow of migrants.
In announcing his trip, Newsom said that while the “Trump administration demonizes those who are fleeing violence from Central America, California is committed to lifting up our immigrant communities and understanding the root causes of migration.”
Newsom, a Democrat, has sparred with Trump on immigration more than any other issue. In his first two months as governor, he withdrew most California National Guard troops from the border and filed a lawsuit over Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to fund a border wall.
Newsom has pledged $25 million to aid asylum seekers and wants to expand access to health care for young people living in California illegally. One of the first bills he signed as governor provided $5 million to help open a migrant support center.
“This is our answer to the White House: No more division, no more xenophobia and no more nativism,” Newsom declared last month in his State of the State address.
He met Thursday with Central American community leaders in Los Angeles to discuss the challenges facing families in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, said she appreciated Newsom’s efforts to start dialogue with immigrant groups.
“I think now that as he embarks on this trip to El Salvador, he will have a deeper understanding of our perspective,” she said after the meeting.
California is home to the nation’s busiest border crossing at San Ysidro in San Diego and has more than 680,000 El Salvadoran immigrants, according to Newsom.
The governor will travel there from April 7 to 10.
César Ríos, executive director of the Salvadoran Migrant Institute, welcomed Newsom’s visit to Central America. He said it’s important that officials “pay closer attention to the causes of migration instead of looking for someone to blame for provoking the migration.”
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen traveled to Honduras this week to meet with leaders from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador and offered U.S. support for combating drug and gang violence. The gang MS-13 is active in El Salvador.
The administration also approved $5.8 billion in aid for Central America in December.
Trump on Thursday blunted that message with a darker assessment of the U.S.-Central American partnership.
“Mexico is doing NOTHING to help stop the flow of illegal immigrants to our Country,” he tweeted. “They are all talk and no action. Likewise, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have taken our money for years, and do Nothing.”
California governors have engaged in international diplomacy before. Former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown traveled to China and Russia and served as a special envoy to the United Nations on climate change. Newsom’s trip to El Salvador will expand his national profile and likely fuel speculation about his ambitions for higher political office.
Brown broke with the Trump administration’s immigration policies, particularly by signing a bill limiting local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration agents.
Newsom has been more aggressive. He reversed Brown’s decision to deploy several hundred California National Guard troops to the border, removing most of them in February to focus on other issues such as preparing for the upcoming wildfire season.
He kept roughly 100 on the border to aid in combating international drug crime and said he’d be willing to work with the Trump administration on that front.
(California Gov. Gavin Newsom with his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom attend a roundtable discussion with Central American community leaders at the Clinica Monsenor Oscar Romero in Los Angeles Thursday, March 28, 2019. Newsom said Thursday he will travel to El Salvador in April to discuss the poverty and violence that’s causing waves of migrants to seek asylum in the United States. AP Photo: Damian Dovarganes)