(SACRAMENTO) â€“ California State Assembly Majority Leader V. Manuel PÃ©rez will be traveling to Central America next week as part of a legislative delegation to discuss a number of policy issues, including immigration reform. Given his legislative history and representing border communities, PÃ©rez will serve as the policy lead on immigration issues for the delegation, which will visit El Salvador, Guatemala, and Panama.
â€œI look forward to these important conversations with Central American government, business, and community leaders,â€ said PÃ©rez. â€œHaving just returned from touring a local Immigration processing center in El Centro, I saw firsthand and heard directly from both the border agents and the undocumented children and women who have fled to our country.â€
PÃ©rez was in El Centro yesterday visiting the Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) Processing Center to better understand their experience of the undocumented being processed and detained there and to observe their treatment by border agents. ICE agents walked him through the intake and screening process and he was able to speak with individuals still being held at the facility. Though each case is handled as efficiently as possible, given the sheer number of people involved, local capacity has been stretched.
â€œI am reassured to see that the El Centro ICE facility is doing its utmost to respond to these children and families professionally and to treat them with respect,â€ said PÃ©rez. â€œDespite their best efforts, though, ICE faces capacity issues with its facilities and staffing. That is another symptom of a generally broken system that we must address. As part of comprehensive reform, we need to build capacity within the system.â€
Once processed, efforts to locate family members and sponsors are made. Even in the best scenario where a local family member is identified and the person can be released immediately, PÃ©rez was told that given backlogs it takes approximately two years for the undocumented person to get a hearing.
â€œFor this reason I support the White Houseâ€™s request for $3.7 billion in emergency funds, which would be used for new detention centers, more immigration judges, and more border patrols and surveillance,â€ continued PÃ©rez. â€œThere is no doubt that more funding is greatly needed. In El Centro, enhanced funding could help with staffing demands, bigger holding cells, improved ventilation, and real cots for those detained overnight.â€
PÃ©rez said that the El Centro facility had no cases of serious illness or public health threats, though he did express concern about the trauma these children have experienced.
â€œThese young people have been victimized by actual or threatened violence to themselves or loved ones and from general lawlessness in their home countries, and then they have endured a grueling journey to get here,â€ said PÃ©rez. â€œChildren especially need mental health services to help make sense of this experience as they return to a more normal routine.â€
PÃ©rez will travel together with five other legislators to El Salvador (July 14-17), Guatemala (July 17-20), and Panama (July 20-23). In addition to immigration, the group intends to strengthen ties and exchange information on issues such as trade and investment, goods movement, infrastructure, climate change, and energy policy.