“I think the entire delegation was shocked.”
Congressional Republicans who toured part of the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona last week were shocked to learn that children are being “recycled” to take advantage of immigration loopholes, according to a Washington Examiner report.
While visiting a sector of the border in Yuma, AZ, officials pointed out a group of about 40 people who were recently apprehended by border police. Most of those arrested had children, some of whom had been “rented out,” a Border Patrol agent told the congressional delegation.
“Everyone has a kid, at least one. Everyone has a kid,” one congressman said in reaction to the scene.
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The agent told lawmakers that some of the children are sent back to Central America or Mexico after making it to the U.S., only to be forced to make the same dangerous journey again with a new group of migrants.
“They know that’s their ticket in,” one lawmaker said.
“I think the entire delegation was shocked,” said Luke Ball, press secretary for Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.
Agents told the lawmakers that current practices work in favor of migrants who are apprehended as part of families. Special attention is paid to whether there are any family units or minors in the group.
“Right now, they’re getting their biographical information: name, first name, last name, date of birth, nationality. Right now, they may ask them where they’re going — how many people, if it was a family unit, were they by themselves, were they minors?” the agent told the lawmakers.
Ball said the migrants peacefully surrender from there, knowing that the law mandates a quicker release for family units arrested at the border.
“They just walked up and surrendered themselves. They did not try to run. They did not try to get away because what we learned last night — is that if they come in as a family unit, they will be released probably less than two days, and they’re not allowed to hold them for a certain period of time, so essentially they are presenting themselves at the border and saying they are a family unit,” Ball said.
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“I think that right now we have a gap where folks are able to come over because there’s no physical barrier. There are changes needed in the law,” Ball continued. “But we first have to plug the dyke.”
Rep. John Joyce, R-P.A., told the Washington Examiner that adults are using children as “fast passes to permanent entry.”
Crossing the border with a child allows the person who illegally crossed to apply for asylum in the U.S., while a 2015 court ruling mandates that families not be held in custody for more than 20 days.
A Border Patrol agent on the tour said that the agency has begun documenting and prosecuting individuals that recycle children, but the agency is limited in what it can do. Agents do not take fingerprints or other biometric information from children younger than 14, making it near impossible to know whether that child is crossing the border for the first time.
Justin Kallinger, spokesman for the Yuma sector, told the Washington Examiner that 99% of migrants taken into custody paid thousands of dollars to be smuggled into the country. Because the adults being smuggled want to avoid being deported, they use children as a technique for avoiding typical immigration proceedings.
“They can utilize loopholes in the immigration law. These children don’t know. They take these one month trips — traversing through horrible, horrible conditions multiple times,” Kallinger said. “Certain children are being recycled, 4-, 8-, 10-year-old children. They come with false documents from adults.”
According to the Examiner, 600 of the 25,000 people arrested in the Yuma sector were not related to one another. Of those 600, only 100 were referred for prosecution.
“We have prosecuted as many as we can. We run into issues with evidence, intent, time in custody once it is found to be a fraudulent family unit are just a few of the barriers we face right now,” Kallinger told the Washington Examiner in a follow-up email.
Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., told reporters at a press conference that the recycling of children is a real problem at the border.
“This is a humanitarian crisis. Incentivizing individuals to then send a child on this dangerous journey and then send them back again and have them take the journey again, that is traumatizing this children,” McSally said. “One of the challenges I understand we’re looking more into it is the collection of those biographical and photograph and biometric information of the younger individuals unless they have consent.”
President Donald Trump has been embroiled in a struggle with Democrats over the situation at the southern border. Trump has declared the situation a national emergency and “crisis” and requested funding from Congress to build a border wall to help deter illegal migration.
Democrats have consistently resisted the allocation of funds for the wall, downplaying the severity of the situation at the border while accusing the president of anti-immigrant rhetoric and bigotry.
Trump recently announced a controversial plan to bus detained migrants to sanctuary cities, hoping to alleviate pressure on crowded detention centers at the border.
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