More than 5,000 young people in San Diego, most of them Hispanics accused of being involved in street gangs, have been held in confinement by the city's corrections system during the past two years.
Most of the crimes are associated with assaults, robbery, drug trafficking or consumption, since according to the authorities, being near the border also makes the youths easy targets for Mexican cartels that recruit them to smuggle drugs.
Pedro Ríos, an activist with the San Diego office of the American Friends Service Committee, told Efe on Tuesday that the situation is particularly prevalent at high schools in the southern part of the county, which is fertile terrain for recruiting U.S.-born Hispanics who can cross the border with little difficulty.
"The traffickers pay them around $400 per trip carrying drugs, but we have also seen them get involved in human trafficking, generally picking the people up on this side of the border and taking them to safe houses," he said.
A report by the San Diego Association of Governments, or SANDAG, notes the positive results of San Diego County's 2000 Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act, adopted in response to a sharp rise in youth violence during the 1990s.
Ríos believed that the increase in crime was associated with Operation Guardian, implemented by the Clinton administration to seal off the border with Mexico, which moved criminal organizations to engage in human trafficking mixed with drug trafficking.
The extent of prevention programs based on the 2000 law is limited, Ríos said, adding that they should be expanded particularly in the southern part of the county, since the problem is not only that the youths transport drugs but that they also become addicts.
County prosecutors have visited San Diego schools and community centers to warn parents about the dangers facing young people, and these visits have been made a priority for 2012, considering that the family is where an early intervention can be most effective.
According to SANDAG, among the youths interviewed in San Diego County detention facilities, 11 percent said that at some time they have been asked to transport drugs over the border, with their first crossing at the average age of 14.