Report: More Illegal Immigrants Are Crossing Border With Fake Relatives To Avoid Detention

Will Racke | Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

Cases of illegal immigrants crossing the southwest border with an unrelated child in tow have surged this year, the result of what the Trump administration says are perverse incentives for human trafficking created by U.S. immigration policies.

In the first five months of fiscal year 2018, the immigration officials recorded 191 cases of children having to be separated from adults because of fraudulent family claims, The Washington Times reported Tuesday, citing Department of Homeland Security (DHS) data.

At the current pace, the number of such cases is on track to exceed 400, a shocking 900 percent increase over last year’s total. By comparison, there were only 46 cases of fraudulent family claims recorded for all of 2017, according to The Washington Times report.

The trend has sparked concern that certain immigration policies are encouraging migrants to cross the border with non-relative children to avoid detention if they are caught. The smuggling of minors across the southwest border is not a new phenomenon, but in fraudulent family cases, it is the illegal immigrants themselves who are using children for their own benefit, DHS officials say.

“We’ve had many cases where children have been trafficked by people who weren’t their parents,” Thomas Homan, the acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told lawmakers at a hearing on Tuesday.

The rise in fraudulent family claims comes amid a related surge in illegal immigration by unaccompanied minors and people traveling in family units. The number of arrests along the southwest border, which is used as a proxy measure for illegal immigration, has been climbing steadily since falling to historic lows in the months immediately after President Donald Trump took office. (RELATED: NO FLUKE: Illegal Immigration Back To Obama Levels After 200 Percent Year-Over-Year Surge)

The number of illegal immigrants arrested at the southwest border or detained at ports of entry in April was more than 200 percent higher than in the same month in 2017. The year-over-year rise in unaccompanied minors and family units was much higher — 800 and 680 percent, respectively, according to Homan.

The Trump administration blames “catch and release” policies — a mix of court rulings and federal statutes — for creating a pull factor for illegal immigration by families and children. One policy that has come under particular criticism from Trump officials is the so-called Flores consent decree, a Clinton-era judicial ruling that unaccompanied alien children must be released from federal custody into the “least restrictive setting” possible. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: DHS Figures Show How Long-Shot Asylum Claims Have Become A Ticket To Stay In The US)

Subsequent judicial rulings made at the end of the Obama administration have further limited immigration officials’ authority to detain the adults in family units, as well. Along with a federal law that requires special treatment for non-Mexican migrants, the Flores rulings have created a perverse incentive for illegal immigration, Homan told lawmakers Tuesday, noting that ICE expects apprehensions of people traveling in family units to increase in fiscal year 2018.

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