CBP Searching For Parents Of 'Smuggled Toddler' After Detaining 'Fraudulent Family Unit' At Border

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency says the Trump administration has taken custody of a "smuggled toddler" after special agents recovered the child from "two unrelated individuals identified as a fraudulent family unit" last week.

In a press release published Sunday, CBP said Border Patrol agents assigned to the Uvalde Station in Texas had "recovered" the toddler from the "fraudulent family unit" last Monday after agents with the Homeland Security Investigations unit identified the smuggling case.

"During the course of the investigation, HSI determined the smugglers had no relation to the child," the press release states.

As a result, "two individuals were taken into custody for attempting to smuggle a small child," while the toddler was taken to the Uvalde Border Patrol Station, where they were cared for overnight by Border Patrol station and HSI agents.

"Agents personally cared for the toddler over the course of three shifts" after it was determined that the Uvalde Border Patrol Station was "better suited to care for the child overnight," the press release states.

"Of all the people that smugglers exploit, children are the most vulnerable," said Del Rio Sector Chief Patrol Agent Raul L. Ortiz added in a statement.

"Thanks to the cooperative efforts between HSI and Border Patrol, this child was removed from a dangerous situation and properly cared for," Ortiz said.

In a separate statement, Shane Folden, a special agent in charge with HSI San Antonio said: "HSI's message is clear⁠—our priority is to protect the children."

"HSI will continue to partner with the Border Patrol to identify and dismantle the criminal organizations using fraud to smuggle children," he said.

In April, the Trump administration vowed to crack down on "fake families seeking to exploit U.S. immigration laws after repeatedly warning of "fake families" arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Department of Homeland Security officials claimed that migrant children had been kidnapped by smugglers and then sent to the border with "fake" parents to help the adults' chances of making successful asylum claims in the U.S.

According to ICE, throughout April alone, HSI agents conducted about 100 family unit interviews and found evidence of fraud in more than a quarter of cases.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the number of unaccompanied children and family units apprehended at the southern border in 2019.

unaccompanied children family units southern border statista
Number of unaccompanied children and family units apprehended at the southern border in 2019. Statista

As of Sunday, U.S. immigration officials still had yet to identify the family of the toddler.

As a result, the child has been placed in the custody of the Health and Human Services department's Office of Refugee Resettlement, which oversees the care of immigrant children held under federal custody.

Sunday's press release does raise questions around what happens to children when they are identified at the border as being part of a "fraudulent family".

It also raises questions as to what lengths U.S. immigration authorities will go to try and identify and reunite children with their true families.

In a statement sent to Newsweek a spokesperson for the HHS said they could not comment on the specific case mentioned in CBP's press release due to "privacy and security concerns".

"As you know, by law HHS is required to provide care for [unaccompanied minors] who are referred by another federal agency," the spokesperson said.

That work, they said, "takes an experienced team of competent, hardworking men and women dedicated to the welfare of the children. We treat the children in our care with dignity and respect, and deliver services to them in a compassionate and organized manner while we work expeditiously to unify each one with a suitable sponsor."

The spokesperson said the ORR "begins the process of finding family members and others who may be qualified to care for an unaccompanied alien child as soon as the child enters ORR's care."

CBP did not provide an on-the-record response for this article.

Child at U.S.-Mexico border
A woman walks with a child near the border barrier, on the U.S.-Mexico border on the beach, on March 30, 2019 in Tijuana, Mexico. A toddler has been taken into federal custody after being identified as part of a 'fraudulent family' at the U.S.-Mexico border. Mario Tama/Getty

This article was updated to include an infographic and with statements from the HHS.