U.S.

DHS Panel Calls for Border Officials to Be Able to ‘Take Photographs and Biometrics of Children’ to Stop Child ‘Recycling’

A new report from the Homeland Security Advisory Council called for U.S. border officials to be able to "take photographs and biometrics" of migrant children as an "emergency regulatory action" to address the surge in arrivals of asylum seekers at the southern border. 

The "emergency interim report," which was released by the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday, outlined suggested measures to address the "large-scale influx" of families arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months.

"The large-scale influx of [family units] is new, having increased dramatically in the last year by 600 percent," the report states. Over 53,000 family units were "apprehended" by Border Patrol officers last month alone, it said. The reported added that "at the current trajectory," the number of family unit apprehensions is likely to exceed 500,000 in fiscal year 2019. 

The report claimed that the "dramatic increase" in family unit apprehensions over the past year "is directly linked" to the U.S. government creating "'pull factors' that incentivize migrants to bring a child with them to gain entry to and release into the U.S."

Invoking a term used by former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen before her resignation earlier this month, the report said new measures must be taken to prevent child "recycling" at the border.

Describing the alleged "recycling" rings, Nielsen said earlier this month: "We’ve broken up so-called 'child recycling' rings, if you can believe it, in the last couple of months, which is where smugglers kidnap a child," Nielsen said. "They give it to an adult to cross the border, present themselves as a family."

"Once they get in, because, as you know, we can only hold families for 20 days, they send the child back and bring the child back with another family–another fake family, another adult," Nielsen claimed. 

In order to address alleged child "recycling," the DHS advisory panel's report suggested taking "emergency regulatory action" to "enable CBP [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] to take photographs and biometrics of children of any age." 

The measure, the panel said, would "stem the recycling of children at the border and...rapidly determine the legitimacy of parentage claims." 

It is unclear how long the DHS would maintain such records or what would happen to the photographs and biometrics of children "of any age," suggesting that even infants might be included. 

In addition to the proposal to take photographs and biometrics of children, the report also suggested that the DHS "act promptly" to limit the 1997 Flores agreement, which effectively blocked the federal government from detaining children under the age of 18 for more than 20 days. 

The report stated that the major “pull factor” driving asylum seekers to the U.S. is the current practice of releasing “most illegal migrants who bring a child with them” into the country with a notice to appear before an immigration judge.

"The crisis is further exacerbated by a 2017 federal court order in Flores v. DHS expanding to [family units] a 20-day release requirement contained in a 1997 consent decree, originally applicable only to unaccompanied children," it stated.

The report asserted that while only 15 percent or less of family units are likely to be granted asylum after being given notices to appear, the long periods for asylum claims to be processed mean that asylum seekers can be in the U.S. waiting for up to two years. 

Calling for a "Flores fix," the advisory panel said the DHS should "roll back the Flores decision by exempting children accompanied by a parent or relative, who is acting as the guardian of the child."

"DHS also should be given discretion to detain a close relative with a non-parent family member when this is in the best interest of the child," the panel says. 

Last year, a federal judge in California blocked the Justice Department's attempt to modify the Flores agreement by asking for more time to detain children past the 20-day cap outlined in the settlement. 

Since then, President Donald Trump and his administration have repeatedly railed against the Flores agreement, with the U.S. leader calling it a "disaster for our country" earlier this month. The president also appeared to confuse the case's name, however, with the name of the judge who presided over it, with Trump deriding "Judge Flores" for making the decision.

The “Flores” in the case's title was not a judge. It was a teenage girl named Jenny Lisette Flores. 

“Some very bad court decisions. The Flores decision is a disaster. I have to tell you, Judge Flores, whoever you may be, that decision was a disaster for our country,” Trump said. “A disaster and we’re working on that.”

The DHS advisory panel said that until Congress acts on rolling back the Flores agreement, the DHS should "act promptly to limit it by emergency regulation." 

The panel said that its emergency recommendations "are not a panacea, standing alone. However, without rapid action, our border enforcement and immigration management efforts will continue to collapse under the weight of continuously increasing [family units] from Central America and elsewhere and be a magnet for criminal elements seeking entry to the U.S., placing many more children in danger."

GettyImages-1017806826 (1) Demonstrators march through downtown calling for the abolition of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in Chicago, on August 16, 2018. A new Homeland Security Advisory Council report calls for U.S. officials to be able to “take photographs and biometrics” of migrant children at the southern border. Scott Olson/Getty

Editor's Pick