As an increase in immigrant families crossing the Southern Border continues to be a topic in the Rio Grande Valley, as well as nationwide, agents say they may not all be valid family units.
“It’s part of the fraud scheme that we’re seeing, because they know that they’ll be released into the United States if they have a child,” said Maria Michel-Manzo, Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
ASAC Michel-Manzo is responsible for managing, directing and coordinating all operational and administrative activities for HSI for Hidalgo and Starr Counties.
She says her agents are working around the clock to assist Border Patrol to determine whether family units coming across illegally are truly related.
“When they’re in Mexico, there have been instances if you’re paying a certain about of money, they’ll sell you a child to come across with,” said ASAC Michel-Manzo.
Border Patrol agents are apprehending on average 1,000 people daily in the Rio Grande Valley.
“We continue to see these family units and unaccompanied children turn themselves into agents throughout the Valley,” said Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Marcelino Medina.
Once immigrants are apprehended, they are asked a series of questions to determine how they are related, if at all.
Body language is also a key factor for identifying fraudulent causes, according to ASAC Michel-Manzo.
“After the initial interview, there’s always a secondary interview and there’s red flags that come up during the interviews,” said Michel-Manzo, “There’s been a high rate of male head of households traveling with children and historically it was always the females/mothers.”
If agents determine the child is not traveling with his or her real parents, they are then considered to be an unaccompanied minor and turned over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).
“They’re the ones that do the leg work to get them back to their country, find them a shelter or maybe with a family member or sponsor in the United States,” said ASAC Michel-Manzo.
Acting Department of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan says it’s becoming a growing trend.
“We’ve uncovered child recycling rings where the same child is brought across the border multiple times, with a different adult to try to gain that release family units are required under court orders,” said McAleenan.
According to CBP records, family units are up 374% from this same time last year throughout the southwest border.
For the Rio Grande Valley, family units are up 228%, according to the same CBP report.
“This is about the safety of children and that’s our first and foremost responsibility. In the last six months, we’ve identified over 3,000 families that were determined to be fraudulent.”
In the first six months of Fiscal Year 19, agents have apprehended 78,976 family units in the Rio Grande Valley.