MEXICO CITY—Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti hopes President-elect Donald Trump will moderate his campaign rhetoric once in office, but says his government is “hoping for the best and preparing for the worst” by making sure the City of Angels is a safe place for everyone, regardless of race or immigration status.
Garcetti, a Democrat, says he recently called Trump and “outlined the importance of legalizing people’s status in Los Angeles,” and tried to explain it in terms the businessman would understand.
“For instance, DACA recipients on average increase wages by 40%," Mayor Garcetti told me during an interview Wednesday in Mexico City, where he was participating in this year's C40 Mayors Summit. "I made the case to [Trump] that it’s not only good for them and for my city for starters, but even for your core voter who is the native-born white guy who’s underemployed. The last thing you want is push people back into the shadows where they get paid under the table. That depresses wages not only for them but for native-born Americans as well.”
Garcetti said his hope for the Trump administration is that it will "really look at a comprehensive fix of a broken [immigration] system."
Did Trump listen?
"I was pleasantly surprised to hear that language also from the president-elect in my conversation,” Garcetti said.
The mayor did, however, stress that LA is taking action now to safeguard the city.
“We are also very aggressively telling the stories of immigrants. Immigrants aren’t some group of folks that people don’t know. They’re your own cousin, your own neighbor, your fellow parishioner, they are the people protecting your country in the armed services," he said.
Approximately 1 million undocumented immigrants live in Los Angeles County. The city’s police chief has said his force will not help the Trump government round-up and deport undocumented immigrants.
“We don’t ask people their immigration status so that we can build trust with our police,” Garcetti said. “We are also looking at legal defense funds like New York has had. We are going to be building one like San Francisco and other cities—I think Chicago is doing it, too—to provide DACA recipients and others with legal assistance in what would be choppy waters.”
The mayor added, “We are taking best practices and trying to make it a nationwide movement so that people will have the help that they need in the coming months.”
Garcetti says he’s already networking with other U.S. mayors such as Chicago's Rahm Emanuel and New York's Bill de Blasio to jointly address challenges such as immigration, infrastructure, and climate change.
Looking south of the border, Garcetti says he doesn't expect the Trump administration will interfere with LA’s evolving relationship with Mexico, although he acknowledges that the next president “could potentially weaken trade ties, migration flows, and government-to-government collaboration.”
“I don’t see that being the vision of the new administration. I think they are focused on the border, they are focused on the issue of undocumented immigrants,” Garcetti noted. “But my sense is there’s more common ground [with Trump] right now than I would have thought even two weeks ago.”
“The forces of global integration that Mexico City and Los Angeles reflect are unstoppable,” he said.
Garcetti also has a personal relationship with Mexico.
“My roots are here. It's three generations ago, but I feel a very strong, personal connection to Mexico as the grandson and great grandson of immigrants on my father’s side,” he said. “It’s confusing, you know, as I said during the Democratic Convention, ‘I’m just your average Mexican-American-Jewish-Italian’.”
He adds, “Every time I come here, I think I kind of deepen my relationship with this country and it feels more and more like coming to a second home.”
The LA Mayor says Trump’s win shouldn’t leave Democrats in a perpetual state of shock.
“I want it to win more,” Garcetti joked when I asked him about his party.
“Look, I think Democrats shouldn’t get too caught up with saving the Democratic Party and coming up with a Democratic agenda. I think we, who happen to be Democrats, need to come up with an American agenda,” he said.
In some ways, the mayor said, the Democrats can learn from Trump's campaign success.
“It’s not just about speaking to your base and people who registered in your party. It’s about people who feel like no party is talking to them. Donald Trump happens to be a Republican, but he spoke to people not as a Republican, he spoke to people as an individual. I disagree with much of what he said and how he said it, sometimes very vociferously, but if we don’t begin to speak to the economic insecurity that people feel, we will continue to lose elections.”
Garcetti says he wants to help the Democrats chart a new agenda for the nation that’s based on a type of globalism that still allows people to have a decent job.
“It’s time for new voices. It’s time for cities to lead,” he said. “The power in any country doesn’t exist where the president lives and works, it exists where everyday people live, work, pray and I feel good about that future.”