By: Kevin Ayala, Law Clerk, Bolour Immigration Group
In April 2017, then Attorney General, Jefferson Sessions, sent out a memo focusing the administration’s anti-immigration efforts to “establish lawfulness in our immigration system” and prioritize prosecution of “alien smuggling”.This was sold to the public as a safety measure to combat the “bad hombres”, and other specters conjured by the administration. The Immigrant Legal Resource Center summarized the definition of smuggler as, “any person who knowingly has encouraged, induced, assisted, abetted, or aided any other person to enter or try to enter the United States illegally”; noting the broad language also applied to people who brought their families across the border, or sent them money, or even helped someone who just recently crossed the border.
10 months later, NBC and Factcheck.org both released reports on the status of these practices. Both cited that less than 1% of all family apprehensions were classified as fraudulent. Specifically, in FY2017, 46 suspected fraudulent cases were reported out of 75,622 total family apprehensions; and in the first five months of FY 2018 there were 191 cases out of 31,102 total. Trump at the time claimed child smuggling was the worst it’s ever been. Factcheck also points out DHS has not provided any numbers on suspected child smuggling or fraud cases before fiscal year 2017.
NBC focused on the human side, interviewing deputy chief Raul Ortiz, about sector chief Manuel Padilla’s statement that 600 cases of what he called family fraud, had been found since October of that year. Ortiz clarified of 600, only 63 had been referred to prosecutors, and only 27 were allegedly family fraud. Ortiz further clarified the most of these cases involved false documents (adults passing as minors), and people arriving to the border with a family member other than a parent. Ortiz did not provide specifics beyond this and it was not clear if it was a growing trend.
March 2019, Buzzfeed reports DHS Chief Nielsen, claimed her agency had uncovered a fresh specter: child recycling. Essentially, Nielsen claims the same children are being used over and over to gain illegal entry to the U.S as family units. Nielsen did not back up these claims. Buzzfeed spoke with the director of migrant rights and justice at the Women’s Refugee Commission, Michelle Brané, who pointed out if the practice did work the way Nielsen claimed there was an obvious flaw. “What it does it takes kids out of dangerous routes and into the hands of agencies processing them and undermining the trafficker”.
It seems clear now, the only thing being recycled and reused here is the victimization of Asylum seekers. This is simply the newest attempt by the Trump administration to sell the public on the idea that the border “crisis”, is somehow not a clear humanitarian one. It is unclear what the report for FY2019 will show, but it seems unlikely that this will be the last time we have to chase this specter from beneath our beds.