As IJR previously reported, more than 614,000 migrants have been apprehended in the United States in the current financial year alone. Unlike years prior, the majority of these migrants are arriving as family units. In May, more than 100,000 migrants were apprehended and two-thirds were family units.
This creates a problem for Border Patrol agents and Immigration and Customs Enforcement because children can only be detained for 20 days, meaning most families are just released into the country on their own recognizance to return for an asylum court date that could be years away.
Many immigration officials have warned that this near-guarantee of release for family units could incentivize people to use children as a one-way ticket into the United States.
According to McAleenan, that fear has come to fruition. During testimony before Congress on Tuesday, the acting secretary explained that 4,800 “family units” were found to not be real family members.
Watch McAleenan’s comments:
“[Traffickers] are smuggling children in inhumane and dangerous conditions and demanding extraordinary sums of money. We have identified now more than 4,800 family units that were fraudulent as they presented at the border. We’ve uncovered multiple child smuggling rings where innocent children are being used multiple times by different adults to gain illegal entry and release in the United States. We routinely hear from migrants and see advertisements on the radio and local news and social media and by fliers and business cards advising that if you bring a child you will not be deported.”
McAleenan noted that Central Americans understand that a “child is a passport” into the United States, leaving kids at high risk for exploitation.
The acting secretary noted that expanding the amount of time family units can be detained beyond the current limit of 20 days could lessen the incentive to use a child to cross the border because the families can be detained together and deported if they do not have a valid asylum claim.