ICE agents found a 7-year-old girl last month who said her mother had rented her out to her uncle so they could pose as a family and he could get more lenient treatment at the border.
Matthew T. Albence, acting director at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, revealed the story to Congress on Thursday, as he detailed the latest efforts to try to combat the surge of migrants from Central America.
The 7-year-old girl, from Guatemala, was on her second trip to the U.S., Mr. Albence said.
“She also told us her two brothers were already here, and came in January, and she didn’t know where they were,” he said.
He’s deployed ICE agents to the border to try to ferret out those kinds of cases. In the first three weeks of operations they identified 256 potentially fraudulent families and confirmed 65 of them as actual cases of fraud, meaning an adult claimed to be the parent of a juvenile child, but the story didn’t check out.
In some cases — such as the girl who was “rented” — the adult was a relative but not a parent. In other cases the relationship was valid but the family lied about the child’s age, trying to take advantage of the lax treatment for parents with juvenile children.
And in other cases there’s no relationship at all.
The ICE cases are in addition to cases detected by Customs and Border Protection.
Over the first six months of fiscal year 2019 — October through March — CBP detected more than 3,500 cases of fake families. That’s nearly eight times more than the previous six months, when CBP identified 466 families.
President Trump has sent an emergency request for $4.5 billion to help care for the families and children, to boost Border Patrol retention and to give ICE the money to maintain its bed space for holding immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. The president has also demanded changes to the policies that entice migrants to come to the U.S. as families, knowing they can get more lenient treatment and quick release.
Democrats blasted the administration, saying ICE should have fewer beds to hold immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, not more.
“This is what happens when you prioritize fear-mongering and campaign slogans over thoughtful border policies,” said Rep. Kathleen Rice, New York Democrat and chairwoman of the House Homeland Security panel’s subcommittee on the border.
She led off the hearing’s questions by demanding to know each of the witnesses’ interactions with Stephen Miller, a top White House adviser who Democrats say is responsible for the immigration policies to which they object.
“What was discussed at those meetings with Stephen Miller?” she demanded of CBP Deputy Commissioner Robert R. Perez.
He told her they talked about border security. She demanded he clarify: “So broadly the administration’s policy and what it was going to be and how you were going to implement it at the border?”
“More so an exchange of ideas and how to implement what we believe are the best policies moving forward,” Mr. Perez said.
“That’s what I said, thank you,” Ms. Rice retorted.
She then turned her fire on Mr. Albence, who said he has heard from Mr. Miller about “operational guidance.”
“He was directing you what the White House policy was?” she said.
“No, it was more of, if we instituted this policy, could it be operationalized, how would it be operationalized,” Mr. Albence said. “It was more the exchange of ideas. It was not a direction.”
Ms. Rice then turned to Tracy Renaud, acting deputy director at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, who said she’d been on conference calls that included Mr. Miller, and dealt with status updates on presidential orders.
Ms. Rice demanded to know whether Mr. Miller spoke on the calls — the answer was yes. She then wanted to know whether he asked questions, and again the answer was yes. She then prodded whether those questions were directly to Ms. Renaud, and the reply was “no.”
The congresswoman, seemingly frustrated, moved on.