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California appoints second-generation Latino as attorney general

Democrat Xavier Becerra seen as leading fight against Trump in key areas such as immigration

Xavier Becerra, the son of Mexican immigrants, has been appointed attorney general for California, the first Latino in the state’s history to occupy the post. The 58-year-old, who has served 12 terms in Congress as the Democratic Party’s representative for Central Los Angeles, will succeed Kamala Harris, who was elected to the US Senate in November.

Xavier Becerra, the new attorney general of California.
Xavier Becerra, the new attorney general of California. AP

Attorney General is one of the most powerful posts in any state, playing a role that combines the area’s top lawyer with that of its chief law-enforcement officer.

Becerra was about to launch a bid to become the ranking Democrat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee when fellow Democratic California governor Jerry Brown called him unexpectedly to offer the job.

The son of Mexican immigrants, Becerra was the first member of his family to attend college, earning a law degree from Stanford Law School and a bachelor’s degree in economics from Stanford University, and studied at Spain’s Salamanca University. Unusually for second-generation Latinos of his generation, he speaks fluent Spanish. Elected to a two-year term in the state Assembly and then to the House in 1992, he rose through the ranks to become the highest-ranking Latino in Congress.

Trump lost by three million votes in California

Becerra’s appointment will be seen as a first line of defense in a state nervous over Trump’s win. California is readying to protect some of the most progressive legislation in the United States on immigration, climate change and health, in sharp contrast to Trump’s statements on the issues.

The most populous state in the union, California also has the largest immigrant population in the United States and has been working on immigration reform though laws that aimed to protect undocumented migrants from deportation while facilitating access to welfare and even a provisional driving license. The Republican Party’s presence in California’s main institutions is minimal.

Brown’s job will be to defend California’s policies from an expected attack at the federal level led by Trump.

Becerra’s appointment is a first line of defense in a state nervous over Trump’s win

Talking to EL PAÍS in 2014, Becerra said that immigration reform in a country with some 11 million undocumented migrants was inevitable. “Migration reform is a wave that is coming and nobody in this country is going to stop it, and much less politicians,” adding: “This is a palpable change: in the same way that we moved from an agricultural to an industrial economy and from that to the internet. You can stay in yesterday’s world, but you won’t survive. Immigration is with us. It’s better to make that wave work in our favor than for it to knock us over.”

Before taking on California, Donald Trump will remember that while he beat Hillary Clinton by a mere 100,000 votes in the industrial north of the United States, he lost by three million in the state.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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