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California Delegation Heads To Central America

Katie Orr, Capital Public Radio

Sen. Darrell Steinberg speaks with the Sacramento media before leaving on a trip to Central America.

Katie Orr, Capital Public Radio

Several California lawmakers will be spending the next few days in Central America. Senate President Darrell Steinberg met with reporters today before catching his flight. The trip has been planned for awhile. But Steinberg says it will be a good opportunity to talk with Central American leaders about the recent influx of migrants from the region to the United States. He acknowledges the problem is primarily a federal issue, but says California has a stake as well.

“I know, for example, that we have a very large Guatemalan-American community in California. We have a number of Hondurans that live here and people from El Salvador," he says. "We of course have a border, but we welcome people to our state.”

Until recently the Border Patrol was transferring many of the immigrants to Southern California for processing. Numerous children are reportedly making the journey to the United States on their own.

The delegation will also be discussing the future of California’s ports while on the trip. Hundreds of billions of dollars worth of cargo pass through the state’s ports every year. But port associations are concerned an expanded Panama Canal could hurt that business. The canal is being widened so larger ships can pass through. That could mean fewer ships will be stopping on the West Coast to unload their cargo.

Steinberg and the delegation plan to meet with The Panama Canal Authority.

“We want to make sure that our ports and our vital economy as it relates to our ports are protected and that we understand how the expansion of the Panama Canal might impact us," he says. "Certainly I believe in free trade because free trade, if done right, benefits trading partners and I want to see what we can do to enhance our trading relationships.” 

UCLA Economics Professor Jerry Nickelsburg says the expansion may slow the growth of the ports, but isn’t likely to take away existing business. And he says the Central American has project has spurred some improvements in California.

“All three major ports in California, so that’s Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland, have engaged in the construction of new infrastructure," he says, "and are currently building new infrastructure, new terminals or dredging so that they have deep water terminals for the new, larger ships.” 

Nickelsburg says competition will be increased but he says some ports on the East Coast also have problems with capacity or location, which shippers must take into account. 

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