Not All in the Family: Migrant Fraud at the Border

In a case that spotlights fraudulent families crossing the border, a federal grand jury indicted a Texas woman and her daughter in a human smuggling scheme involving an unrelated two-year-old girl.

The grand jury indicted 42-year-old Aida Martinez of Eagle Pass, Texas, and 20-year-old Aida Rodriguez, a U.S. citizen living in Piedras Negras, Mexico, on charges of conspiracy to bring an alien into the U.S. and making false statements to federal agents. If convicted, each woman faces up to 10 years in prison.

According to court records, the defendants brought the child into the U.S. using Rodriguez’s actual daughter’s birth certificate. Federal and state authorities subsequently arrested the women and recovered the unidentified child near Batesville, Texas, about 120 miles north of the border.

The defendants admitted their intent was to take the child to unknown individuals in San Antonio, collect payment for the child and return the money to co-conspirators in Piedras Negras.

The Martinez-Rodriguez scheme typifies “family unit fraud” encountered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Border Patrol. The apprehension signals that inroads are being made by the agencies’ new Family Fraud Initiative.

Over the last six months, officers in the El Paso sector detained 238 fraudulent families who presented 329 false documents. More than 350 individuals face federal prosecution for crimes including human smuggling, making false statements, conspiracy and illegal re-entry after removal.

As with the toddler in the Martinez-Rodriguez case, minors taken into custody were handed over to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Some of the most disturbing cases involve transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) and individuals who are increasingly exploiting innocent children to further their criminal activity,” ICE said in a statement.

ICE said traffickers have admitted to making deals with parents to transport children as young as four months old to the U.S. for human smuggling purposes or to fraudulently obtain benefits.

“One individual was a 51-year-old who paid $80 to rent a six-month-old child to come to the border,” Kevin McAleenan, then acting Homeland Security secretary, reported back in June. “We’re very concerned about fraud. We think it’s a huge part of [the border surge], and it’s caused by the fact that they know if they come as a ‘family,’ they’ll get special treatment at a port of entry.”

In late September, McAleenan announced a clampdown on catch-and-release practices that were waving family units into the U.S. “With some humanitarian and medical exceptions, DHS will no longer be releasing family units from Border Patrol stations into the interior,” he said.

The tightened policy, along with stricter vetting via the Family Fraud Initiative, are welcome steps toward restoring order at the border. Extending the fraud-fighting initiative beyond the El Paso sector will help to ensure that the “special treatment” formerly enjoyed by fake family migrants comes to an end.

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