EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Border authorities in the El Paso region have uncovered 238 “fraudulent family” claims since April, officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced on Friday.
ICE said unrelated immigrants pose as Central-American or South-American families and surrender to border authorities in hopes of being released into the U.S.
To identify these individuals, ICE, Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Border Patrol began the Family Fraud Initiative in El Paso. In six months, authorities seized 238 fraudulent documents and arrested 350 individuals on federal charges such as human smuggling, making false statements, conspiracy, and illegal re-entry. Officials also said 50 adults claimed to be unaccompanied minors.
In a news release, ICE said trans-national criminal organizations devise schemes with biological parents to transfer their children — sometimes as young as 4 months — to unrelated adults so that they can pose as family units. Federal agents in El Paso have turned over 19 of those children to U.S. Health and Human Services.
“These children are being dangerously used as pawns by criminals to take advantage of loopholes in our immigration laws and avoid being detained by U.S. immigration authorities,” Jack P. Staton, special agent in charge of HSI El Paso, said in a statement. “HSI and Border Patrol will continue to protect children from being smuggled, as well as aggressively target, identify and stop criminal organizations from generating false documents and exploiting innocent children.”
Added El Paso Border Patrol Sector Interim Chief Gloria I. Chavez: “These are examples of the dark side of this humanitarian crisis that our Border Patrol and HSI agents are working tirelessly to identify.”
To combat the surge of both legitimate and fraudulent families, and rescue exploited children, HSI said it deployed 130 special agents, criminal analysts, forensic interview specialists, document examiners, and victim assistance specialists to the Southwest border.