U.S. immigration authorities have discovered hundreds of instances at the border of “family unit fraud,” or unrelated individuals posing as families, over the last six months thanks to a new investigative initiative.
Authorities exposed 238 fraudulent families presenting 329 false documents, according to the results of an investigation run by Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations unit in El Paso, Texas, the results of which were announced Thursday.
More than 350 of those individuals are facing federal prosecution for crimes including human smuggling, making false statements, conspiracy, and illegal re-entry after removal. Authorities have referred 19 children to U.S. Health and Human Services as a result of this investigation. Another 50 migrants fraudulently claimed to be unaccompanied minors.
“Some of the most disturbing cases identified involve transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) and individuals who are increasingly exploiting innocent children to further their criminal activity,” ICE said in a statement.
In some cases, criminal organizations made deals with the children’s biological parents to transfer children as young as 4 months old to the U.S. and pose as a family unit either for human smuggling purposes or to fraudulently obtain immigration benefits, ICE said.
“These are examples of the dark side of this humanitarian crisis that our Border Patrol and HSI agents are working tirelessly to identify,” said El Paso Sector Interim Chief Gloria Chavez. “We will pursue the highest of judicial consequences for those who commit fraud and exploit innocent children.”
The Trump administration has attempted to end the “catch and release” policy for migrant family units, which provides migrant families an expedited release into the U.S. as their asylum cases are being processed.
Then–acting Homeland Security secretary Kevin McAleenan said last month that the vast majority of migrant families who enter the country illegally will no longer be eligible for “catch and release” due to the implementation of stricter policies. One such policy, the Migrant Protection Protocols, requires that migrants wait in Mexico while their asylum claims are being adjudicated.