Children at Center of Booming Smuggling Industry

By Charlotte Cuthbertson
Charlotte Cuthbertson
Charlotte Cuthbertson
Senior Reporter
Charlotte Cuthbertson is a senior reporter with The Epoch Times who primarily covers border security and the opioid crisis.
August 5, 2019 Updated: August 5, 2019

WASHINGTON—A 33-year-old Honduran male illegally crossed the U.S. border with his 15-year-old “son” recently.

After an investigation, it was discovered that the man had borrowed the boy from the boy’s mother in Honduras to use in an attempt to be released into the United States quickly as a family unit. He presented a fake birth certificate for the boy.

Border Patrol and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents are uncovering thousands of such stories as smugglers and illegal aliens learn that a child is an adult’s ticket into the United States, due to legal loopholes.

In this case, the child didn’t have any family in the United States, and the man told agents he had planned to drop the boy off with an unknown male in Nebraska. “He also stated that smuggling fees are considerably less expensive when adults are traveling with a child,” according to case notes obtained by The Epoch Times. The man confessed when he was faced with a DNA test. He was charged with alien smuggling.

“By requiring the release of family units before the conclusion of immigration proceedings, seemingly well-intentioned court rulings and legislation are being exploited by transnational criminal organizations and human smugglers,” Matthew Albence, acting director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in a congressional hearing on July 25.

“These despicable smugglers have created an entire illicit industry with untold millions of dollars being made through the sale, rental, and recycling of children—utilized by unscrupulous adults to pose as family units.”

border security
Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence testifies in front of the House Appropriations Committee on the Capitol in Washington on July 25, 2019. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

HSI, a division of ICE, has sent 4,000 agents to help Border Patrol investigate fake families entering along the southern border.

Since mid-April when the HSI agents were deployed, more than 5,800 fake families have been discovered, according to Kevin McAleenan, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Almost 15 percent of all family units that Border Patrol agents refer to HSI have been found to be fraudulent.

In separate cases, two Guatemalan men claimed to be traveling with their teenage sons when apprehended by Border Patrol in Santa Teresa, New Mexico.

Both men subsequently admitted to HSI agents that the smuggling organization had provided them with the children—one was 15 and the other was 16 years. Both men were charged and convicted with illegal re-entry.

Another recent case found that Guatemalan man Francisco Paredes-Garcia used a fake birth certificate to try to convince border agents that a 17-year-old boy was his son.

During a subsequent interview with HSI agents, Paredes-Garcia admitted the child wasn’t his, and instead had only known him for a short time.

He told agents the child’s real father had “gifted” the child to him in order to claim to be a family unit.

“Paredes-Garcia stated he knew the birth certificate contained false information and still used it, because he knew it was the only way he could make entry into the United States,” the HSI case file states. Paredes-Garcia was charged and convicted of making false statements.

A Honduran man, 24, told border agents that he was traveling with his 6-month-old son and presented them with a counterfeit Honduran birth certificate. A subsequent DNA test revealed the two were not related, and the man admitted the child belonged to his girlfriend, who remained in Honduras.

HSI said the man had recently attempted to enter the United States with the child on two separate occasions but was returned to Mexico to await his immigration hearing. The man was charged with alien smuggling.

In cases such as these, most children are sent back to their families in their home countries, according to ICE. Some are also connected with family members in the United States.

The number of individuals within family units who Border Patrol has apprehended along the southern border so far this fiscal year reached more than 390,000 by the end of June. Another 37,500 presented at ports of entry without legal documentation. Averaged out, that’s close to 1,600 per day since Oct. 1, 2018.

Only 14 percent of family units asserted a credible fear claim after crossing the border illegally in fiscal year 2018, according to Customs and Border Protection data. Border Patrol is so overwhelmed that they often release families into the United States within hours of apprehension, even if they don’t make a credible fear claim.

All families are released with a Notice to Appear in immigration court, but the vast majority don’t show up.

Of almost 17,000 asylum cases for family units completed since Sept. 24, 2018, only 142 were granted asylum relief by an immigration judge—less than 1 percent. Most (13,500) were ordered removed after failing to show up at their court hearing, according to data from the Justice Department. The statistics are from 10 major immigration courts around the country, including Houston, New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and Atlanta.

The immigration court backlog currently sits at more than 900,000 cases.

border security
A smuggler paddles his raft back to Mexico after dropping a Guatemalan woman and her daughter on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande near McAllen, Texas, on April 18, 2019. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

Child Imposters

A new trend that agents are uncovering more frequently is that of child imposters—especially single adult males using false birth certificates to pass as unaccompanied minors.

Unaccompanied minors are generally transferred from Border Patrol custody to Health and Human Services within 72 hours, giving agents a short window to discover fraud.

HSI recently encountered a 23-year-old Honduran male who claimed, with a fake birth certificate, to be 17 when apprehended by Border Patrol. Since mid-April, HSI agents have discovered 71 such child imposters; 70 of whom have been accepted for prosecution.

More than 67,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the southern border since Oct. 1, 2018. Most are from Central America, and they spend around 45 days in Health and Human Services custody before being released to a sponsor within the United States—in most cases (79 percent) to an adult who is in the country illegally.

“The increase in flow of illegal migrants and the change in those arriving at our border are putting the migrants, particularly young children, at risk of harm from smugglers, traffickers, criminals, and the dangers of the difficult journey,” Albence said.

Charlotte Cuthbertson
Senior Reporter
Charlotte Cuthbertson is a senior reporter with The Epoch Times who primarily covers border security and the opioid crisis.