LOS ANGELES (CN) – Ahead of a trip to El Salvador next month California Gov. Gavin Newsom and his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, met with immigration advocates and lawmakers at a roundtable discussion in Los Angeles on Thursday.
The fact-finding mission will be the governor’s first international trip since taking office earlier this year. He plans to meet with El Salvadorian officials to learn more about what pushes Central Americans to flee their home countries amid violence and political unrest.
California has the largest population of Salvadorans in the United States, about 686,000, and the rate of people fleeing their home country is at 3,600 out of every 100,000 residents.
Central Americans migrating to the U.S. have been targeted by the Trump administration, which seeks to rescind important immigration programs that would not only impact Salvadorans, like the Temporary Protected Status program, but also instituted the family separation policy at the border meant to dissuade people from seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.
California state Rep. Wendy Carrillo, the first Salvadoran sworn into the state assembly, who arrived at the US-Mexican border at age 5 with her family, was at Thursday’s roundtable discussion.
“I was wearing a Mickey Mouse shirt, pigtails. I think about that point, and I think about what’s happening now with children being separated from their family because it may not be their mom or their father,” Carrillo said.
Jocelyn Duarte from the Salvadoran American Leadership and Education Fund said it’s important to connect resources that can give refuge to unaccompanied minors and other asylum seekers, which is something the nonprofit has done for young people fleeing gang violence in a region referred to as the Northern Triangle of Central American, which is made up of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
Duarte said it’s important to provide solutions to the causes that push people from their home countries, including economic strife and a lack of safeguards for women.
After taking office, Newsom signed Assembly Bill 72 which provides state aid to asylum seekers skipped over by federal government policies and the bill earmarked $5 million for a temporary immigrant shelter in San Diego.
Central American Studies professor Douglas Carranza from California State of Northridge said the issues that forced Salvadorans to flee their country during the civil war in the 1980s are coming up again and require a new lens to view.
“The problems of children remain the same. Eighty thousand people were killed. Ten thousand disappeared. They are still looking for those kids,” Carranza said. “We have to have different ideas on how to solve the problem, but this is the first time when the government has taken a different step. It will be a wonderful experience to listen.”
Newsom said he could not ignore the actions of the Trump administration.
“I’ll tell you, Trump and Trumpism has driven a sense of deep resolve for me and it’s emotion and not just intellectual,” Newsom said.
Newsom said on a trip to the border he met an 8-year-old girl who was seeking asylum. But Newsom said he could not do anything for her in that moment.
“I had to go into another room, because I got deeply emotional. I connected that experience with the young girl to the rhetoric coming out of the White House and I’m not going to put up with it,” Newsom said.