LOS ANGELES -- During a three-day fact-finding trip, California Gov. Gavin Newsom heard the people of El Salvador give many reasons why migrants flee to the United States.
Gangs extort small businesses and kill those who dare to cross boundary lines in some El Salvador neighborhoods. Police and military have been accused of brutalizing their communities. Women have been imprisoned for having miscarriages, and the Central American country's LGBTQ citizens face discrimination. Nearly one-third of Salvadorans live in poverty.
"People, many people, die, and for us, when you're young, it is very sad to see that life is not respected," said David Escobar Fuentes, a 26-year-old Salvadoran who said he unsuccessfully fled to the U.S. last year after gangs extorted his family's farming business. "It is sad to see a little kid, just a few months old, that has been shot in the neck. There is no justice in the country."
The problems in El Salvador are vast, complex and deeply ingrained in the country's societal fabric, too difficult for a visiting governor to solve.
But as President Donald Trump seeks to cancel U.S. aid to El Salvador and wall off the southern border with Mexico, Newsom hopes to help stimulate jobs and the economy there, a commitment he made after discussions with the country's officials and business leaders. The governor described the effort as replacing Trump's border wall with a wall of economic opportunity around El Salvador -- one that gives people fewer reasons to leave.
"Helping stabilize El Salvador directly helps California by mitigating the border challenges, by mitigating migration, by tempering the rhetoric with the Trump administration," Newsom said. "It's about finding a different angle in the debate."
The governor said in an interview that he invited El Salvador to send a delegation to California to meet with the state's business leaders and discuss investment opportunities.
He met with Salvadoran entrepreneurs who extolled the country's prime surfing beaches in an hourlong discussion. El Salvador President-elect Nayib Bukele plans to launch a "Surf City" program that would encourage tourism to his country.
"We have the best surfing beaches in the world, and they have the other ones," said Bukele, who plans to visit Newsom in California. "So we want to work together."
Newsom said Visit California, a nonprofit operated and funded by the tourism industry to promote travel to the state, has committed to sharing marketing practices and assisting El Salvador to brand itself as a travel destination.