California Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom is scheduled to attend the inauguration Saturday of Mexico's incoming president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, and plans to discuss the caravan of Central American migrants at the border.
Newsom is part of a larger California delegation of elected officials and business leaders from the state attending the swearing in ceremony of Mexico's new president.
The trip, coming just over a month before Newsom takes the reins of California government, underscores how the state has taken a leadership role in immigration rights and continues to have a thriving economic relationship with Mexico.
It also comes as President Donald Trump and the leaders of Canada and Mexico on Friday signed the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which will replace the 24-year-old NAFTA. The trade pact was signed on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Buenos Aires.
Despite the new USMCA signing, Mexico and Canada continue to target various U.S. goods with retaliatory tariffs in response to the Trump administration's duties on imported steel and aluminum. Tit-for-tat tariffs also have impacted a wide range of goods traded with China.
Mexico is California's top export market. Last year it accounted for 15.5 percent of all the state's exports, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Top exports from California include electronics and computers, while the top imports from Mexico are cars, electronics and agricultural products.
According to Beacon Economics, Mexico remained California's top export market in the third quarter of 2018 with shipments south of the border reaching $7.68 billion, up 14 percent from a year ago. By comparison, exports in the same period to China—the state's third biggest market—dipped 5.3 percent to $3.94 billion and reflected the expanding trade war with Beijing.
California ranks as the world's fifth largest economy, with gross state product last year totaling $2.74 trillion. Beacon estimates that the California's stake in the modernized North American Free Trade Agreement has grown in the past year, reaching 28 percent of the state's entire merchandise export trade in the third quarter of 2018 compared with 27 percent a year ago.
Meantime, immigration-related issues also have taken a more prominent role in ties between Mexico and California. More than two million undocumented immigrants reside in California, with Pew Research Center estimating in 2014 that over 70 percent are Mexican-born.
There are signs Newsom may take a more activist role on immigration-related matters than outgoing California Gov. Jerry Brown.
The shift comes as thousands of Central American asylum seekers are waiting in the Mexican city of Tijuana, hoping U.S. officials will let them cross the southern border. Federal officials this week defended the use of tear gas at the U.S.-Mexico border to defend against what they claim are "violent" migrants throwing rocks and other objects at U.S. officers.
On Thursday, Newsom visited San Diego where he said there's "a humanitarian crisis" at the border. He toured the Otay Mesa Immigration Detention Center and a temporary shelter for asylum seekers, saying the state should invest more money. The Democrat said there was a need for more to be done by local governments as well as the federal government.
"We can't do everything ourselves but I know we're capable of doing more," Newsom said during a news conference in San Ysidro. "I think we need to humanize the issue, not politicize the issue."
Newsom also indicated he plans to discuss the plight of the Central American migrants when he attends the inauguration Saturday of Mexico President-elect Lopez Obrador. The incoming governor, who assumes the governorship Jan. 7, 2019, reiterated his opposition to the use of California National Guard troops as part of Trump's mission of clamping down on southern border security.
In April, Brown announced the state reached an agreement with the Department of Defense to deploy up to 400 National Guard troops but indicated they would have a limited role to "combat criminal gangs, human traffickers and illegal firearm and drug smugglers — within the state, along the coast and at the U.S.-Mexico border." That agreement is set to expire at the end of March 2019.
"I have every desire to pull those Guardsmen back and assist in other capacities," Newsom said Thursday.
-The Associated Press contributed to this report.