Chil­dren ‘ab­ducted’ for le­nience at bor­der Catch-and-re­lease rule mul­ti­plies fam­ily fraud

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY STEPHEN DINAN

The gov­ern­ment warned fed­eral judges in 2016 that their at­tempts to cre­ate a catc­hand-re­lease pol­icy for il­le­gal im­mi­grant fam­i­lies would lead to chil­dren be­ing “ab­ducted” by mi­grants hop­ing to pose as fam­i­lies to take ad­van­tage.

The court brushed aside those wor­ries and im­posed catch-and-re­lease any­way.

Two years later, chil­dren are in­deed be­ing kid­napped or bor­rowed by il­le­gal im­mi­grants try­ing to pose as fam­i­lies, ac­cord­ing to Home­land Se­cu­rity num­bers, which show the U.S. is on pace for more than 400 such at­tempts this year. That would be a stag­ger­ing 900 per­cent in­crease over 2017’s to­tal.

“The eye-pop­ping in­crease in fraud and abuse shows that th­ese smug­glers know it’s eas­ier to get re­leased into Amer­ica if they are part of a fam­ily and if they bring un­ac­com­pa­nied alien chil­dren,” said Katie Wald­man, a Home­land Se­cu­rity spokes­woman. “Th­ese loop­holes make a mock­ery of our na­tion’s laws, and Congress must act to close th­ese le­gal loop­holes and se­cure our bor­ders.”

Ab­duc­tions are one of the more star­tling as­pects of the surge in bor­der cross­ings, which is test­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion just as a surge tested Pres­i­dent Obama in 2014.

While the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion strug­gled to set­tle on a pol­icy, Pres­i­dent Trump and his team have shown lit­tle hes­i­ta­tion in push­ing for strict en­force­ment, an­nounc­ing a zero-tol­er­ance ap­proach that in­cludes pros­e­cut­ing adults who at­tempt to jump the bor­der with­out go­ing through an of­fi­cial bor­der cross­ing.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion says it’s the best way to en­cour­age peo­ple not to make the dan­ger­ous jour­ney north — par­tic­u­larly if they were go­ing to bring chil­dren.

Most of those cases are in­deed le­git­i­mate fam­i­lies, and the par­ents may end up fac­ing crim­i­nal charges, lead­ing to sep­a­ra­tion, un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s zero-tol­er­ance pol­icy.

But in a grow­ing num­ber of cases, il­le­gal im­mi­grants who aren’t even re­lated to the chil­dren are show­ing up and fraud­u­lently claim­ing to be fam­i­lies.

Home­land Se­cu­rity recorded 191 cases of chil­dren hav­ing to be sep­a­rated be­cause of fraud­u­lent fam­ily claims dur­ing the first five months of fis­cal year 2018. That al­ready eclipses the 46 cases re­ported for all of 2017.

The prac­tice seems par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar among Hon­durans, based on a sam­pling of cases that The Washington Times has learned of in re­cent months. Hon­duran men on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions have at­tempted to cross into Texas with un­re­lated chil­dren in tow — and with bo­gus birth cer­tifi­cates claim­ing to show parent­age.

While some of the cases in­volve ab­duc­tions, other cases in­volve chil­dren whose par­ents know­ingly lend them to friends look­ing to pose as a fam­ily.

Home­land Se­cu­rity is tight-lipped about in­di­vid­ual cases but has pub­licly ac­knowl­edged the prob­lem.

“We’ve had many cases where chil­dren have been traf­ficked by peo­ple who weren’t their par­ents,” Thomas D. Ho­man, the act­ing chief at U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment, told Congress last week.

At­tempts to smug­gle chil­dren are by no means new, but there does seem to be a shift.

Cases re­viewed by The Times from ear­lier this decade usu­ally in­volved a U.S. cit­i­zen or le­gal per­ma­nent res­i­dent smug­gling for pay or as a fa­vor to a par­tic­u­lar child or fam­ily.

In one case that came be­fore U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Ha­nen, the judge who is hear­ing Texas’ chal­lenge to the Obama-era DACA pro­gram, a woman was con­victed in 2013 of try­ing to smug­gle an un­re­lated 10-year-old girl from El Sal­vador into the U.S. us­ing one of her own daugh­ters’ birth cer­tifi­cates. The 10-year-old girl’s mother, an il­le­gal im­mi­grant liv­ing in Vir­ginia, paid $6,000 for the at­tempt.

In the lat­est rash of cases, how­ever, it is il­le­gal im­mi­grants who are do­ing the smug­gling and us­ing the chil­dren for their own ben­e­fit, hop­ing to ap­pear more sym­pa­thetic to Amer­i­can law en­force­ment to try to earn eas­ier treat­ment.

Bor­der Pa­trol agents are also see­ing in­stances of par­ents with mul­ti­ple chil­dren split­ting up to en­ter the U.S., said Bran­don Judd, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Bor­der Pa­trol Coun­cil.

He said the par­ents know that if they came as a cou­ple along with their chil­dren, one par­ent might be sep­a­rated, leav­ing just the other par­ent with the chil­dren. But if they cross in­di­vid­u­ally, each with a child, agents won’t sep­a­rate the child from some­one who ap­pears to be a sin­gle par­ent.

Au­thor­i­ties at­tribute the surge to an over­all in­crease in at­tempts to jump the bor­der and to a se­ries of court rul­ings at the end of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion that cre­ated the fam­ily catch-and-re­lease pol­icy.

In those rul­ings, U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee de­cided that a Clin­ton-era court agree­ment known as the Flores Set­tle­ment, which pre­vi­ously ap­plied only to un­ac­com­pa­nied alien chil­dren, should also ap­ply to ju­ve­niles who ar­rive at the bor­der with their par­ents.

She ruled that the chil­dren should gen­er­ally be re­leased from Home­land Se­cu­rity cus­tody within 20 days. But she also ruled that the chil­dren are best-served when they are placed with their par­ents, so it made sense for the en­tire fam­ily to be re­leased from cus­tody.

The Obama Jus­tice Depart­ment warned the courts that cre­ated a per­verse in­cen­tive for peo­ple to bring chil­dren on the dan­ger­ous jour­ney — and in some cases to kid­nap chil­dren to pose as fam­i­lies.

“When peo­ple now know that when I come as a fam­ily unit, I won’t be ap­pre­hended and de­tained — we now have peo­ple be­ing ab­ducted so that they can be deemed as fam­ily units, so that they can avoid de­ten­tion,” Leon Fresco, deputy as­sis­tant at­tor­ney gen­eral for the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s of­fice of im­mi­gra­tion lit­i­ga­tion, told the 9th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals at the time.

Judge Gee’s of­fice de­clined to com­ment Tues­day on the surge in kid­nap­pings other than “to ad­vise you to read the Flores set­tle­ment agree­ment.”

But Peter Schey, the lawyer who won the case be­fore Judge Gee, said kid­nap­pings aren’t as much of a prob­lem as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s zero-tol­er­ance pros­e­cu­tion pol­icy.

“The num­ber of chil­dren sep­a­rated from their par­ents by hu­man smug­glers is a tiny frac­tion of the num­ber of chil­dren be­ing forcibly sep­a­rated from their par­ents by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion,” Mr. Schey told The Times.

When fam­i­lies are caught un­der the new pol­icy, he said, agents will iso­late and in­ter­ro­gate the chil­dren, look­ing for ev­i­dence to use against their par­ents in court.

The par­ents of­ten end up serv­ing brief jail time, but the chil­dren by then have by then been shipped into the foster care sys­tem, leav­ing the par­ents with “no idea how to track down their chil­dren who DHS yanked from the par­ents’ cus­tody.”

“The pol­icy is ir­ra­tional and in­hu­mane,” Mr. Schey said.

Democrats on Capi­tol Hill also ques­tioned how Home­land Se­cu­rity was de­cid­ing which fam­ily claims were deemed fraud­u­lent.

Rep. Nanette Diaz Bar­ra­gan, a Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat who as a lawyer han­dled some asy­lum cases, said some peo­ple who show up on the bor­der are flee­ing hor­rific cir­cum­stances back home.

“It is hard for some of th­ese fam­i­lies, when they’re flee­ing vi­o­lence and they’re leav­ing their coun­try. They’re not ex­actly say­ing, ‘Oh, let me get the doc­u­ments to prove this is my child,’” she said Tues­day at a House Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee hear­ing.

“I’ll tell you right now if I had to go find some­thing to prove my re­la­tion­ship with my child it would prob­a­bly take me a lit­tle bit,” she said.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A drone photo shows the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der fence in south­ern Ari­zona. Ac­cord­ing to Home­land Se­cu­rity, the U.S. is on pace for 400 at­tempts of chil­dren be­ing kid­napped or bor­rowed by il­le­gal im­mi­grants try­ing to pose as fam­i­lies to cross the bor­der into...

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