Former ICE official: Children are drug cartel's newest commodity

Reports of smuggling fees slashed to entice others

SAN ANTONIO – Tens of thousands of young Central American immigrants are said to be victims of false hopes and profit at the mercy of dangerous drug cartels, who consider children their newest, illegal commodity.

"They're greedy and they're driven by profit and they're going to try to make as much money as they can," said Alonzo Pena, who was deputy director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement during the George W. Bush administration.

Pena retired in San Antonio, where he now heads a security consulting firm.

He said the cartels are spreading misinformation throughout Central America.

Pena said people are being told, "They're going to come here, turn themselves in and everything is fine. They're going to be reunited with their families."

He said the truth is, after they're picked up by U.S. Border Patrol agents, they'll be put in deportation proceedings, then go before an immigration judge who may or may not grant them asylum.

Pena also said the change in U.S. policy that focuses on criminals in the country illegally has left a false impression with immigrant families in America.

He said they believe, "Now is the time to bring your kids because nothing is going to happen to you."

Pena said he doesn't see a quick solution to the crisis.

"I think it takes a commitment that we pay attention to our neighbors in the south," Pena said.

He said the U.S. should help Central American countries strengthen their economies so their citizens don't want to leave.

For instance, Pena said funding could help create anti-gang units in those countries.

However, on our side of the border, Pena said Congress must overhaul the nation's broken immigration system.

"We see a lot of finger pointing and we need to see people sitting together, coming together, saying we have a problem and we need to work together to fix it," he said.

For a list of recent stories Jessie Degollado has done, click here.