Newsletter: Essential Politics: Illegal immigration remains in the spotlight

Essential Politics

A case could be made that no policy area has been more dominant since President Trump took office than illegal immigration — which is a bit astounding when you consider where things stood a little more than two years ago.

In fall 2016, just before that year’s historic presidential election, only 7% of California’s likely voters called illegal immigration the state’s most pressing problem. By the beginning of 2019, it had tripled and become the top answer from Californians — no doubt a reflection of the rhetoric on both sides of an issue placed front and center by the president and the intense debate over his administration’s actions.

As the new week begins, illegal immigration again tops the news both from the Trump administration and from Gov. Gavin Newsom — one for an unexpected departure, the other for a closely watched arrival.

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For Trump, his celebrated trip to Calexico and boasting of enhanced border security were quickly eclipsed by the sudden departure of Kirstjen Nielsen, his second Homeland Security secretary.

Nielsen resigned on Sunday, and it’s hard to imagine the decision — announced by the president on Twitter — as entirely her own.

“Despite our progress in reforming homeland security for a new age, I have determined that it is the right time for me to step aside,” Nielsen wrote in her resignation letter that was later made public.


She lasted about 18 months in a job that was constantly in the spotlight, becoming synonymous with the Trump administration decision to split up thousands of migrant parents from their children. Kevin McAleenan, the head of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, will become acting secretary.


The timing of both Nielsen’s departure and the president’s Southern California trip may help Newsom get a little extra attention for his three-day trip to El Salvador.

The governor and his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, arrived in San Salvador on Sunday. And he wasted no time in aligning himself with the people of the Central American nation instead of with the leader of his own country.

“I think right now you have a president that talks down to people in this country, talks past them, demoralizing folks living here and their relatives in the United States,” Newsom said of Trump. “I think it’s important to let folks know that’s not our country, that’s an individual in our country, who happens, at this moment, to be president.”

The governor began his trip with a visit to the tomb of Oscar Romero, the Catholic priest who was granted sainthood last year and was murdered in 1980 for speaking out against El Salvador’s government.

Newsom is scheduled to meet with the nation’s top officials on Monday and U.S. representatives. A key question we’re watching is how much of the trip is a critique of Trump and how much focuses on what — if any — role California can play in the region’s migration crisis.



-- Volunteers are struggling to help hundreds of asylum seekers released from U.S. government custody with little help navigating what comes next.

-- Trump’s chief of staff Mick Mulvaney declared Sunday that congressional Democrats would “never” see the president’s tax returns, a seeming rejection of House oversight authority.

-- Attorneys for the president’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, are asking members of Congress to help keep him out of prison.

-- Senior U.S. Treasury official David Malpass has been appointed president of the World Bank Group, placing a loyalist of President Trump at the helm of the development lender.

-- Ernest F. “Fritz” Hollings, the silver-haired Democrat who helped shepherd South Carolina through desegregation as governor and served six terms in the U.S. Senate, died over the weekend. He was 97.


If you had to pick an issue with the power to upend California’s new era of legalized marijuana, this would be it: a major fight over the legality of pot deliveries into cities that might not want them.

On Thursday, 24 cities that restrict the sale of pot inside their borders filed a lawsuit against the Newsom administration. They alleged that deliveries into their communities are a violation of the state’s pot-legalizing law, Proposition 64.


“The promise to the voters and to the cities and counties who went neutral on Prop. 64 was that they would be able to decide what types of commercial cannabis would be available within their community,” said Douglas L. White, an attorney for the cities.

The regulations surrounding marijuana sales and licensing are complex, and the lawsuit only further highlights the challenges that lie ahead in implementing the law voters overwhelmingly embraced in 2016.


-- Housing consultant Jennifer LeSar has seen her business boom in recent years, mirroring the rise in power of her spouse, California Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins. Some warn that government agencies and companies may be trying to curry favor with Atkins by contracting with LeSar.

-- Newsom took a family vacation before heading to El Salvador, and his office refused to disclose where he was.

-- California state lawmakers and Mexican officials met on Friday to discuss how to tackle cross-border water pollution in the Tijuana River.

-- Assembly Bill 392, introduced after the Stephon Clark shooting, is being billed as the nation’s tightest restrictions on use of force by law enforcement. But the measure is unlikely to lead to more police prosecutions, supporters and opponents both say.

-- Siebel Newsom endorsed the expansion of unpaid family leave in California last week, long before her husband had weighed in on the legislative proposal.

-- The last time Californians voted in a presidential primary, there was widespread confusion among unaffiliated independent voters about how they could cast a ballot. A prominent Democratic legislator has a plan to change that.

-- A task force led by powerful California political attorneys might ask that the state’s campaign watchdog agency be banned from confirming the existence of investigations. Others say the public has the right to know what’s going on.


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