California Governor Jerry Brown called a news conference in Mexico City's Foreign Ministry on Monday to strengthen bilateral ties between the two regions as its shared common border grapples with a surge in undocumented migrant children crossing into the U.S.
At a news conference with Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Jose Antonio Meade, Brown said the immigration overload of thousands of Central American youths at the border should be seen as a humanitarian issue.
The U.S. is coping with a dramatic increase in the number of unaccompanied children attempting to cross the border, coming mainly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
The visit, organized by the California Chamber of Commerce, saw Brown sign a memorandum of understanding seeking to boost economic, education and cultural exchanges.
Speaking to media, the California governor said the interests of Mexico and the United States are inextricably linked.
“There's been a lot of focus particularly on Europe and the Middle East and other hotspots in the world, but if we are really thoughtful, our well-being in California and the United States is in a significant degree dependent on how people do in Mexico and Central America,” he said.
But this link has strained ties recently as the immigration debate heats up in the United States. The Obama administration estimates about 90,000 Central American children will arrive in the U.S. this year, growing to 150,000 next year.
With immigration facilities bursting at the seams, Brown said child migration was on the agenda of his trade visit.
“And that is why I've come here for this meeting (is) to deal with very specific issues on trade and climate and exchange of students and professors and joint research, as well as confronting the topic of the children that are fleeing violence, gangs and the cartels and coming north,” Brown added.
Meade said he and Brown agree the use of law-enforcement or military agencies “is never justified in cases where children are concerned” unless they are providing medical or logistical aid.
U.S. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, announced a decision last week to deploy up to 1,000 National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border over the next month to combat what he said were criminals exploiting the surge of children pouring into the U.S. illegally.
Issue has become politicized
Asked about that, California's Democratic governor said: “I hesitate to comment on the thinking that goes into the sending of the Texas National Guard to the border. I would suspect that it would be of relatively short duration and that wiser minds will prevail in the next several months.”
Brown said the immigration surge has become politicized, adding: “My goal is to try as much as I can to frame the issue of the children as a humanitarian challenge. That should appeal to people of all political persuasions.”
California Attorney General Kamala Harris said Thursday she is helping secure lawyers to represent minors during immigration hearings.
Meade said few Central American migrants apply for asylum in Mexico because they are trying to join relatives in the United States.
Meade welcomed the mobilization of the U.S. National Guard if officers could help provide services to child migrants apprehended crossing the border.
“We assume that if the mobilization policy, if it's looking to safeguard the children, to supply them with, for example, medical services, supplying support services like transportation, looking to minimize the time required to process them, this would be welcomed,” he said.
The governor also had a private meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.
In a statement, Pena Nieto's office noted that “California is home to the largest Mexican community abroad, and for that reason both sides agreed to increase cooperation to ensure the welfare of that population.”
Brown's trade mission is aimed at increasing direct investments in California, promoting university exchanges and forming environmental partnerships to combat climate change.
On Tuesday, he is to sign an education agreement, then meet with Mexico's energy secretary, the president of the senate and other officials.
Brown is expected to wrap up his trip on Wednesday by signing a trade agreement with Mexico, California's largest export market.
Some information for this report provided by Reuters, AFP and AP.