Illegal Immigration By ‘Family Units’ and Children Surges As DACA Negotiations Heat Up

Will Racke | Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

The number of family units and unaccompanied children attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border spiked again in December, the eighth consecutive month of rising illegal immigration by those categories of migrants.

Just over 5,000 unaccompanied children (UACs) either presented themselves for entry at the border or were detained by border patrol agents in December, a seven percent jump over November’s total. The rise in family units attempting to cross the border was even sharper: About 13,000 people in family units tried to illegally immigrate in December, a 21 percent jump from the previous month.

Border officers arrested or turned away a total of 28,996 people along the southwest border in December, a shade fewer than the 29,082 detained or denied in November, according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data released Tuesday.

Border arrests are used as a proxy for overall levels of illegal immigration. The idea is that, assuming a given standard of border security, more apprehensions mean that more illegal aliens are slipping undetected into the U.S., and vice versa.

The overall number of arrests and inadmissables remained roughly constant, however, the CBP data confirms a worrisome development: more families and children are trying to illegally immigrate to the U.S. now than at any time during President Donald Trump’s administration.

The UAC and family cases are particularly troublesome for immigration authorities because they trigger special processes or complex appeals in immigration courts. Illegal immigrant children must be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services for temporary resettlement, and families often petition for asylum after being apprehended, obligating the government defer to deportation while asylum officers asses their claims of “credible fear” of persecution. (RELATED: Unaccompanied Minors and Families Remain A Huge Problem For Immigration Authorities)

The surge in UACs and families showing up at the southwest border coincides with negotiations between the White House and Congress over a replacement for the now-cancelled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a former President Barack Obama administration order that shielded younger illegal immigrants from deportation.

DACA applied only to a certain subset of illegal immigrants, but immigration activists and their Democratic allies are seeking a bill that would cover a much larger group of people. One bill favored by Democrats, the Dream Act, would provide a path to citizenship for as many as three million illegal immigrants, compared to the 790,000 who received protection under DACA.

Immigration hawks say discussions of a broader DACA amnesty are enticing families to try to cross the border in hopes their children will also be covered by the bill. The Trump administration has also pointed to laws governing the asylum process, arguing they contain loopholes that incentivize fraudulent claims.

Acting Homeland Security (DHS) Press Secretary Tyler Houlton said Tuesday that Congress should change immigration laws to deter illegal border crossings by children and families.

“The significant increase over the last month in the number of family units and unaccompanied children coming across the border illegally highlights the dire need for Congress to immediately adopt responsible pro-American immigration reforms,” he said in a statement. “Current loopholes in our immigration laws have created an incentive for illegal immigrants who knowingly exploit these same loopholes to take advantage of our generosity.”

Houlton added that DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen would demand stricter screening of UACs and family units as a part of any future immigration reform package.

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