A group of California lawmakers will visit Central America next week to learn about the immigration challenges that are contributing to the U.S. border crisis.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and several members of the Legislative Latino Caucus will go to El Salvador, Guatemala and Panama on a 10-day political, economic and social mission. The lawmakers, all Democrats, are scheduled to meet the president of El Salvador and other dignitaries.
Steinberg's spokesman, Rhys Williams, said the trip had been planned for months but recent events have made it more relevant. Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children have been arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border from poor and gang-ridden Central American nations.
"They will inform themselves of the challenges both in those countries and how they translate to having an impact on California communities," Williams said.
Some of the travel costs will be paid by the host governments, and lawmakers are responsible for their remaining expenses, including airfare and hotel, Williams said. Taxpayers will cover the travel costs associated with one legislative staffer, he said.
The delegation will visit from Monday to July 23.
Steinberg, from Sacramento, will be joined by Sen. Ellen Corbette of Hayward, and Assemblymen Jose Medina of Riverside, Henry Perea of Fresno, V. Manuel Perez of Coachella, and Luis Alejo of Watsonville.
More than 57,000 children have entered the U.S. illegally since October, overwhelming Border Patrol facilities. Most of them are from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Tens of thousands of other Central Americans have crossed the border traveling as families.
Gov. Jerry Brown weighed in on the problem for the first time Friday, calling it "a human tragedy."
"We've got kids whose throats are being slashed in El Salvador and Honduras and Guatemala," Brown said while addressing the American Federation of Teachers convention in Los Angeles. "And not, by the way, accidentally from some of the policies in the last 20 or 30 years."
California may be criticized as a failed state with poor school performance, but it remains a desirable place to live, he said.
"They may come in through Texas because they have so many holes in the border down there, but they usually want to get over to California as fast as they can, because stuff is happening here," the governor said.
He added that he was not encouraging that behavior but called for U.S. and Central American politicians to work together.
The California delegation will also visit Panama to learn firsthand about the expansion of the Canal Zone.