Fake Family Units at the Border

Stupid rules and their victims

By Andrew R. Arthur on February 15, 2019

In a recent post, I noted the fact that, as a matter of policy, the Border Patrol does not photograph or take the fingerprints of migrants under the age of 14. This is a serious mistake, and one that risks the safety and dignity of those children.

Since the start of the fiscal year, in the Border Patrol's Yuma Sector alone, agents have identified 260 false family units; that is, aliens who did not honestly identify their familial relationships. The existence of such false family units is not exactly news, however. For example, Fox News reported in July 2018 about the phenomenon in McAllen, Texas. It began:

Border patrol agents say they are alarmed by the growing number of migrants illegally crossing the border with children — who are not their own — to avoid long-term federal custody.

Deputy Chief Patrol Agent Raul Ortiz said he's seeing a growing number of migrant children crossing the border with people pretending to be their parents.

A decades-old settlement, known as the "Flores agreement," limits the amount of time U.S. officials can detain immigrant children — thus doing the same for their parents, which Ortiz said motivates many of the false relationships.

The problem became so prevalent that the agency began carefully tracking fraudulent family cases in the Rio Grande Valley, after agents noticed a heightened use of fake documents. In fiscal year 2018, Ortiz reported 600 instances.

Recently, border patrol agents rescued a 4-month-old Honduran child from a man falsely identifying himself as her father. In an interview with officials, he admitted purchasing the fraudulent document. Agents later discovered it wasn't the illegal immigrant's first time using a child to avoid long-term federal custody. In 2013, records revealed he smuggled an 8-year-old child across the border, claiming he was the father. They were released from federal custody because they received a family unit designation.

The New York Times, in a "fact-checking" article, quoted Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who told the National Sheriffs' Association in June 2018:

"I'm sad to say that from October 2017 to this February, we have seen a staggering 315 percent increase in illegal aliens fraudulently using children to pose as family units to gain entry into this country."

That article claimed that Nielsen's statement "needs context" because "those instances of family fraud are a tiny fraction of the total number of families apprehended at the southwestern border." OK. Respectfully, however, if I told you that only a "tiny fraction" of children are being sexually molested by their parents, would that mean that the government shouldn't take any steps necessary to stop such molestation? The question is rhetorical.


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A shocking subset of those fraudulent claims involves children who are being "recycled", that is used by different aliens seeking to enter the United States who are claiming a familial relationship to those children, which I was told about during my recent border visit.

News reports of late have discussed this phenomenon. A February 1, 2019, article in the Washington Times discussed a White House meeting at which the president "hosted sex-trafficking experts ... to hear about the latest schemes and what authorities are doing to stop them." That article stated:

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen reported on what she called a "child recycling ring" that used illegal immigrant children to pave the path for other illegal immigrants.

Carl McClafferty, associate chief for intelligence at the U.S. Border Patrol, said he managed to track down one of the rings and found a woman who was being paid $1,500 per child to collect them from the U.S. and take them back to Guatemala to be used in future migration efforts.

"She claimed to do this 13 times," Mr. McClafferty said. "We found out they were recycling these children."

The reasons why smugglers or illegal migrants would claim falsely that minors were their children vary from the merely expedient (as reported by Fox News above, the belief that traveling with a child will make it more likely that the purported "parent or guardian" will be released more quickly) to the debased (that the children are being labor- or sex-trafficked). The aforementioned Washington Times article detailed such trafficking, albeit in a slightly different context:

Timothy Ballard, a former Homeland Security special agent and now CEO of Operation Underground Railroad, told Mr. Trump that fencing actually could help stop some cases of children being smuggled across the border for illicit purposes.

He recounted one case in which a girl was "groomed" in Central America, then smuggled across the southern border "where there was no wall" and taken to New York.

He then described her horrifying situation of being "raped for money every day, 30-40 times a day."

"Had there been a wall, had there been a barrier, this little girl likely would have been saved, because the traffickers would have been forced to take this child through the port of entry, where we have amazing law enforcement," Mr. Ballard said. "They can detect, they have equipment, they have trained agents."

To underscore the point, he recounted a story of a 5-year-old boy kidnapped in Mexicali in northern Mexico by an American man who ran a child porn ring in San Bernardino, California.

Mr. Ballard said there's a wall at that part of the border between Mexicali and Calexico, California, so the man had to try to bring the boy through the border crossing.

"And guess what? It worked. We captured him, we rescued the little boy, and subsequently rescued 12 other children in San Bernardino, California. The difference between those two cases is two plus two equals four. The wall was the difference," he said.

"The wall rescued this little boy and the lack of a wall caused this little girl to go through a hell that is indescribable," Mr. Ballard said.

Not to undercut Ballard's argument at all, sometimes even infrastructure like walls, fences, and barriers are enough to slow, but not prevent migrants from entering the United States illegally. The fact is that if we fingerprinted and photographed all minors who were apprehended by the Border Patrol, the U.S. government would be able to quickly identify any child who had been "recycled", and would also be better able to track any child who was discovered to have been trafficked in the United States. The former cases speak for themselves. In the latter cases, rings of traffickers could be more easily broken if the government were able to identify both the child and who had bought the child to the United States to begin with.

Having been fingerprinted numerous times in the United States for government employment, security clearances, to obtain a Global Entry card, and even once in Maryland to exercise a right guaranteed by the Constitution, I am keenly aware of and sensitive to civil liberties' concerns. When it comes to protecting a child, however, particularly one about whom the federal government has little or no information, such concerns should take a back seat.