ICE Cracking Down on 'Fake Families' Using Children as 'Pawns' at Border

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Matthew Albence, then ICE Executive Associate Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill July 31, 2018 in Washington, D.C. Albence, now acting director of the agency, has vowed to crack down on "fake families" at the U.S.-Mexico border. Chip Somodevilla/Getty

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency revealed on Monday that it is reallocating resources to the Southwest border in a bid to crack down on "fake families seeking to exploit U.S. immigration laws."

The Trump administration has repeatedly warned of "fake families" arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months, with Department of Homeland Security officials claiming that migrant children are being kidnapped by smugglers and then sent to the border with "fake" parents to help their chances of making a successful asylum claim in the U.S.

"ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is redirecting resources to the border in response to cases of fake families using forged documents to illegally enter our country and avoid detention," ICE Acting Director Matthew Albence, who recently replaced resigned ICE chief Ronald Vitiello, said in a statement published online.

"Our highly skilled teams are working to stop individuals, networks and organizations facilitating child smuggling and document fraud," Albence said. "ICE, along with our partners at [U.S. Customs and Border Protection], remains committed to protecting children by ensuring they are not used as pawns by individuals attempting to gain entry to the U.S. through fraud."

ICE said its Enforcement and Removal Operations unit has temporarily shifted around 330 deportation officers to areas at or near the border "most deeply impacted by the unprecedented surge being encountered at the Southwest border."

During the week of April 16, the agency's HSI unit deployed three teams to support Customs and Border Protection's efforts in El Paso, Texas, and Las Cruces, New Mexico. It also deployed three additional teams to Eagle Pass and Harlingen, Texas; Yuma, Arizona; and El Centro and San Diego in California.

"The teams were chosen for their human smuggling and trafficking expertise and include criminal analysts, interpreters, document analysts, forensic interview specialists and victim assistance specialists," the agency said.

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, though the agency did not specify what types of fraud its agents had identified.

In one case, the agency said HSI special agents identified two suspect family units presenting themselves as two fathers with their sons on April 22. The agency said the four individuals, two of whom were found to be 23-year-old men pretending to be minors, are now being prosecuted for visa fraud and making false statements.

In another case, ICE said an adult Honduran man had presented a false birth certificate for a 7-year-old child who was traveling with him. During an interview, the man admitted that he was not related to the child, the agency said. As a result, the man was prosecuted for illegal entry, and the child was turned over to the care of the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement as an unaccompanied minor in accordance with procedures outlined in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.

ICE said that it would be focusing its efforts on investigating child smuggling rings as well as the use of fraudulent documents "to create fake families."

"This fraud may include the use of forged birth certificates or other fraudulent documents to establish parentage," ICE said. It added that forged or other fraudulent documents are being used by adult migrants to "falsely claim they are minors under the age of 18."

"By fraudulently entering as a family unit or unaccompanied minor, illegal aliens can exploit loopholes in immigration laws to enter the U.S. and avoid detention," ICE said.