FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) --Assembly member Henry T. Perea and five other state lawmakers spent eight days in Guatemala, El Salvador and Panama. While there he met with national leaders to discuss how they can prevent the problem from getting worse.
Perea calls it a "humanitarian crisis." So far this year U.S. customs and border protection has apprehended around 52,000 unaccompanied children at the U.S. border, and federal authorities predict that number could jump to at least 90,000 by the end of September.
Immigration has been one of the country's hottest topics for years now, with strong advocates on both sides of the spectrum. But with president Barack Obama and congress at a stand-still over comprehensive reform local leaders like Perea are taking matters into their own hands, exploring what impacted-states like California can do to stop the influx of children from arriving at the U.S. border.
"I do think you need to secure the border and I think we are a nation of laws and those laws need to be respected," said Perea. "But this is much deeper. Until the economies and education system is fixed in Central America, I'm not sure you're going to see the migration slow down."
Perea says human traffickers, known as "coyotes", are using social media to recruit kids from rural areas. These smugglers are lying to their families, telling them if their child gets across the border, under the U.S. immigration law, they'll be allowed stay. He says the El Salvadorian government understands the crisis and is beginning to respond. They're doing a public awareness campaign to warn parents and children of the dangers of crossing through Mexico and U.S.
Perea says the upsurge in unaccompanied minors has created a need for more housing and legal services. The children go through due process to determine their eligibility to become U.S. citizens. But others, like Assemblyman Jim Patterson, believe everyone who enters the United States illegally should be deported. No matter the age.
"If at the end of the day, the approach for the united states is if you get across the border you're safe, that's an open invitation not for 100,000 to come this year," said Patterson. "But one million, two million, five million. There will be a rush to the border."
Patterson believes the U.S. should send a strong message to Central America by securing our borders first, but should also help these countries rebuild their economies, improve their educational systems and manage the legitimacy of their elections. Perea agrees and added El Salvador is working to arrest and prosecute human smugglers.