The number of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally who fraudulently posed as families with juvenile children at the border has soared, authorities reported Monday, saying they have opened about 100 investigations and found more than 25 suspected cases in April alone.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it deployed six new teams of agents to the border in the last two weeks to combat smuggling fraud, and it’s already paying off with the number of investigations.
Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence said he sent the teams down to try to weed out “fake families using forged documents” to game U.S. immigration policy.
Under a policy imposed by a federal judge in 2015, adults who show up at the border with their children are supposed to be held in detention for 20 days or less. That isn’t enough time to hear their immigration cases, so the families are released — and often don’t bother to show up for their deportation cases, instead disappearing into the shadows.
That has created an incentive for adults to abduct or borrow children to make the journey north, hoping to fool border authorities.
“ICE, along with our partners at CBP, remain committed to protecting children by ensuring they are not used as pawns by individuals attempting to gain entry to the U.S. through fraud,” Mr. Albence said.
Sometimes the fraud is based on adults not being related to the children they’re smuggling or being relations but not parents.
In other cases, parents lie about their children’s ages, claiming they are under 18 when in fact they are adults.
In one April 18 case, authorities say they detected a Honduran man traveling with a 7-year-old child. The man presented a false birth certificate for the juvenile, but ICE says the child was “completely unrelated.”
The man was charged with illegal entry — a misdemeanor — and the child was deemed an Unaccompanied Alien Child (UAC) and turned over to social workers at the Department of Health and Human Services.
In another case on April 22, ICE agents identified two men traveling with two people the men claimed were their juvenile sons.
In fact, the two were 23 years old and were pretending to be minors.
All four are being prosecuted for visa fraud and for making false statements, ICE says.
The Obama administration had warned federal judges that children would be abducted if they limited family detention to 20 days. The courts rejected those warnings and imposed the 20-day limit, and the abductions indeed have come to pass, officials say.
Top Department of Homeland Security officials have testified to Congress that children are being “recycled,” or brought to the U.S. by one adult, then smuggled back to Central America to be brought again by another adult.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said agents found one woman who was paid $1,500 per child to bring them back to Guatemala to be used again in future trips.
“She claimed to do this 13 times,” Ms. Nielsen said in a White House event in February.
The Border Patrol says it has begun fingerprinting children, with the permission of parents, to try to crack down on recycling.
Also Monday, the Pentagon said it has approved 320 new personnel to be deployed to take pressure off Border Patrol agents overwhelmed by the surge of families.
The Defense Department workers will be assigned to drive, feed and perform welfare checks on immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, taking over duties that had been performed by agents.
Officials said as much as 40% of agents’ time in some hard-hit areas of the border was spent on the babysitting duties instead of on patrol.
“DoD personnel will assist in driving high-capacity CBP vehicles to transport migrants; providing administrative support, including providing heating, meal distribution and monitoring the welfare of individuals in CBP custody; and attorney support to ICE,” Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, a spokesman for acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, said in a statement.
The deployment, which had been requested by Homeland Security, will last through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, and cost $7.4 million.