- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Families no longer will be considered off-limits for deportation, acting ICE Director Mark Morgan told reporters Tuesday.

Mr. Morgan, who has been at the job for a week, said the lack of consequences — in this case being deported after being ordered removed by an immigration judge — is fueling the current border crisis, which he called the worst he’s seen in decades of immigration law enforcement.

He said Immigration and Customs Enforcement must find a way to change the incentives that leave immigrants thinking that if they bring a child and pose as a family, they will gain lax treatment, quick entry into the U.S., and face virtually zero chance of being removed any time soon.

“The mindset is no one is exempted. You’re either in violation of the law or not, and we take it from there,” Mr. Morgan said. “That will include families.”

He said it’s too early to say what the action will look like and whether it will include targeted enforcement or a surge in manpower to enforce deportations.

Ousting illegal immigrant families has long been a goal of hard-liners within the Trump administration, who say short of stopping them from coming, making sure they go home somewhat quickly after they are ordered out of the country is the only way to stem the surge.

Plans to go after families had been raised earlier this year, but were scuttled by the leadership then at the Department of Homeland Security and ICE. Both Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and then-acting ICE Director Ronald D. Vitiello have since left and have been replaced with new acting chiefs.

Families now account for a majority of illegal immigration at the border, and almost all of it is from Central America.

Once they’re here, they have been nearly untouchable.

Of illegal immigrant families nabbed in 2017, 98% of them are still here, Mr. Morgan said, underscoring the “loophole.”

During a recent pilot program intended to speed up deportation hearings for families, 90% of them failed to show up for their cases, meaning that they were ordered removed in absentia. But with ICE not making an effort to look for them, the removal order is mostly meaningless, experts said.

The families are the key component in a strained border, and the knowledge that bringing a child to the border earns quick access to the U.S. is well known, officials said.

Mr. Morgan said one proof is that many immigrants aren’t even bothering to claim asylum anymore, undercutting the claims of immigrant-rights activists that they are by and large refugees seeking protection from violence back home. The migrants know they can earn a foothold in the U.S. without bothering to get on the asylum track, he said.

Mr. Morgan also pointed to the abuse of children, who he said are being “recycled” to help create fake families. Children are loaned out to an adult migrant who wants to reach the U.S., with fraudulent documents claiming a parent-child relationship.

Once the adult immigrant is free and clear in the U.S. under the family loophole, the child is reclaimed by a facilitator who sends the boy or girl back to Central America to be used on another journey, ICE officials said.

Mr. Morgan said it’s tough to know how many cases have snuck through, but since ICE deployed teams of investigators in mid-April, they have flagged 1,226 cases of potential fraud, identified 206 documented fraud cases, recommended charges against 399 people, and had 315 of the cases accepted.

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