Illegal immigrants are trying a bold new strategy to sneak into the U.S. — pairing up with unrelated children and pretending to be families, fabricating tales of heart-rending woes back home to try to convince border agents to admit them into the country, according to internal Homeland Security documents reviewed by The Washington Times.
That is one of the tactics feeding the surge of illegal immigrants in recent months, which the Border Patrol’s intelligence unit says was part of a pre-election rush to try to get into the country. The U.S. set records for illegal immigrant children and families in fiscal year 2016 and is on pace to break those records one month into fiscal year 2017.
Intelligence analysts said the patterns are shifting as migrants figure out how to game the system.
It has become so easy to sneak into the U.S. as a family that some aren’t even bothering to pay smugglers. Instead, they are making the trip on their own and saving thousands of dollars in fees. That has made the trip affordable for illegal immigrants who wouldn’t have made the journey otherwise, the analysts said in the documents.
“Some family units have shifted from using [smugglers] to movement facilitated by family-supported coaching and assistance because it is widely believed that the U.S. will allow them to enter if they travel with a child and claim that they have a fear of returning back to their home country,” the analysts said.
In some cases, smugglers pair unrelated children with adults and coach the youngsters to lie so they can bamboozle agents into admitting them as families. In other instances, families will split up and each parent will take a child, making it more likely that they will all be quickly released.
“The children are now deportation shields,” said Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies.
She said the pattern of illegal migration from Latin America until recent years involved adult men coming to the U.S. and later sending for their families.
The documents say the administration’s handling of the 2014 unaccompanied minors crisis invited the surge this year.
Illegal immigrants saw the treatment the children were given and decided to make the journey as families, the analysts said, because they “believe they have a good chance of being released after processing.”
The federal government considers that processing a criminal procedure, while the illegal immigrants see it as “receiving assistance” in their attempt to gain a foothold in the country, the analysts said.
That contradicts the public case made by administration officials, who say the surge is a result of deteriorating conditions in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, which most of the children and families are fleeing.
The intelligence analysts said conditions in those countries are poor but it is a “steady state” of affairs. Instead, the surge “is largely driven by migrant perceptions of U.S. policies in place to release minors and family units on their own recognizance.”
“These perceptions are likely derived by the outcomes observed during the 2014 [unaccompanied minor] surge, subsequent policy and court decisions related to family unit and minor alien detentions, and information received from family and friends already living in the United States,” the analysts said.
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman said she hadn’t seen the documents The Times reviewed and couldn’t comment on them.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Republican who represents San Diego and has tracked the surge of migrants, sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson this week asking why the administration is ignoring its own intelligence assessment.
“While the U.S. Congress and the American public can expect nothing to change in this regard until the new administration takes over, it is absolutely astonishing that your own intelligence unit — and the president’s own border intelligence unit — is drawing attention to U.S. immigration policy as a catalyst for illegal migration,” Mr. Hunter said. “Despite this fact, we’ve heard from the president, the department and the rest of the administration an entirely different narrative that doesn’t conform to what our own agents and intelligence officials continue to state.”
More than 103,000 family members and more than 70,000 unaccompanied children were caught crossing the border illegally in fiscal year 2016. That was up from about 68,000 family members and 69,000 children in 2014 — the previous record year.
The Border Patrol has scrambled agents, pulling from some regions to deploy to others, hoping to try to contain the situation. Some 150 agents were taken from California, Arizona and other parts of Texas and deployed to southern Texas to help process the growing number of families and unaccompanied children.
“I have told our border security and immigration enforcement personnel that we must keep pace with this increase,” Mr. Johnson said this month.
“Those who attempt to enter our country without authorization should know that, consistent with our laws and our values, we must and we will send you back,” he said in a statement.
Mr. Johnson said he is trying to keep in detention more adults in the country illegally, which could speed their deportations. He also said he is working with other countries to take back their deportees more quickly.