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October 17, 2019El Paso, TX, United StatesDocument and Benefit Fraud

ICE HSI El Paso, USBP identify more than 200 'fraudulent families' in last 6 months

EL PASO, Texas — Unrelated illegal aliens, falsely posing as families from Central and South America, continue to fraudulently circumvent U.S. immigration laws so they will be quickly released into the United States after turning themselves in to U.S. border authorities.

In April 2019, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) began the Family Fraud Initiative in El Paso to identify individuals fraudulently presenting themselves as families when making an asylum claim in order to be released into the United States.

Since inception, this law enforcement initiative has resulted in the following:

  • 238 fraudulent families identified;
  • 329 false documents seized that were used to support fraudulent claims;
  • more than 350 individuals federally prosecuted for various crimes, including human smuggling, making false statements, conspiracy, and illegal re-entry after removal; and
  • 50 individuals identified who have fraudulently claimed to be unaccompanied minors.

Some of the most disturbing cases identified involve transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) and individuals who are increasingly exploiting innocent children to further their criminal activity. Investigations indicate that TCOs and individuals have entered into schemes with biological parents to dangerously transfer their children – ranging in age from 4 months to 16 years – to unrelated adults so they can pose as family units to further their human smuggling criminal enterprises and/or fraudulently obtain U.S. immigration benefits.

HSI and U.S. Border Patrol agents in El Paso have referred 19 children to U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS), potentially rescuing these children from dangerous situations.

Jack P. Staton, special agent in charge of HSI El Paso, said these criminal schemes are becoming more common, and they endanger children and exploit our immigration laws.

“These children are being dangerously used as pawns by criminals to take advantage of loopholes in our immigration laws and avoid being detained by U.S. immigration authorities,” he said. “HSI and Border Patrol will continue to protect children from being smuggled, as well as aggressively target, identify and stop criminal organizations from generating false documents and exploiting innocent children.”

Also, this past summer Border Patrol agents encountered a Guatemalan, who initially claimed to be an unaccompanied minor. The alleged juvenile possessed a birth certificate that reflected his claim to being 15 years old. However, during questioning he admitted that the birth certificate he presented was fraudulent, and that in fact he was an 18-year-old adult. In this case as in several others, the agents’ investigative actions prevented this man from being processed as a minor, referred to HHS and housed with juveniles.

“These are examples of the dark side of this humanitarian crisis that our Border Patrol and HSI agents are working tirelessly to identify,” said El Paso Sector Interim Chief Gloria I. Chavez. “We will pursue the highest of judicial consequences for those who commit fraud and exploit innocent children.”

The issue of “family unit fraud” has been increasing since the spring of 2018. To combat the unprecedented surge of families, both legitimate and fraudulent, and identify and rescue innocent children who are being exploited, HSI deployed 130 personnel to the Southwest border consisting of special agents, criminal analysts, forensic interview specialists, document examiners and victim assistance specialists.