A federal judge in Texas late last week accused the Obama administration of aiding drug cartels, saying that instead of enforcing immigration laws, agents knowingly helped smuggle an illegal immigrant girl into the U.S. to live with her mother, also an illegal immigrant, in Virginia.
In a 10-page order, Judge Andrew S. Hanen said the case was the fourth such case he's seen over the last month, and in each instance Customs and Border Protection agents have helped to locate and deliver the children to their illegal immigrant parents.
The judge said in each case, taxpayers footed the bill for flights — including flights to multiple locations in different parts of the U.S. that it took to find one of the children's parents.
"The [Department of Homeland Security] is rewarding criminal conduct instead of enforcing the current laws. More troubling, the DHS is encouraging parents to seriously jeopardize the safety of their children," the judge said, adding that some of the children have been made to swim the Rio Grande River or traverse remote areas as part of the smuggling.
In the case before the judge last week, a 10-year-old girl whose mother, Patricia Elizabeth Salmeron Santos, paid a smuggler to get the daughter from El Salvador across the border and to Virginia.
The agents apprehended the smuggler and the young girl, and prosecuted the smuggler, but delivered the daughter to Ms. Salmeron Santos in Virginia, even though agents were aware she was in the country illegally.
"The DHS, instead of enforcing our border security laws, actually assisted the criminal conspiracy in achieving its illegal goals," the judge said. "It completed the mission of the conspiracy initiated by Salmeron Santos. In summary, instead of enforcing the laws of the United States, the government took direct steps to help the individuals who violated it. A private citizen would, and should, be prosecuted for this conduct."
Judge Hanen said that Homeland Security officials regularly testify that the drug cartels control immigrant smuggling operations along the border, and he said the department's actions in helping finish the smuggling actually end up benefitting the very cartels U.S. officials say they are trying to damage.
"The big economic losers in this scenario are the citizens of the United States who, by virtue of this DHS policy, are helping fund these evil ventures with their tax dollars," the judge wrote.
Homeland Security officials told the court they won't prosecute the illegal immigrant parents for their role in the smuggling, and Judge Hanen said it appeared to be a department wide policy. Officials did say they are considering trying to deport Salmeron Santos, though it was unclear whether that had been done.
The cases highlight a growing problem along the border of what the government terms unaccompanied alien children, or UACs. Apprehensions of UACs jumped 81 percent from 2010 to 2012, suggesting more and more illegal immigrant parents are taking the risk of having their children leave home to join them in the U.S.
The young children present sympathetic cases, similar in some ways to the plights of the young illegal immigrants known as Dreamers, after the Dream Act legislation.
President Obama last year announced a new policy to halt deportations of those young illegal immigrants, arguing they were brought to the U.S. by their parents with no say in the decision, and so should be allotted special treatment.
Immigrant-rights advocates now want the parents of the Dreamers to be spared deportation, arguing it is morally wrong to separate families.
But Judge Hanen said in the cases before him, the illegal immigrants made that decision themselves, often years before. In the case of the 10-year-old, he said Ms. Salmeron Santos chose to come to the U.S. without her daughter years ago.
"She purposefully chose this course of action. Her decision to smuggle the child across the border, even if motivated by the best of motives, is not an excuse for the United States government to further a criminal conspiracy, and by doing so, encourage others to break the law and endanger additional children," the judge wrote.
"To put this in another context, the DHS policy is as logical as taking illegal drugs or weapons that it has seized from smugglers and delivering them to the criminals who initially solicited their illegal importation/exportation. Legally, this situation is no different."
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