U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended more than 670 migrants illegally crossing the border in three separate groups in less than 24 hours.
Agents took into custody 243 Central American migrants at about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday at Camp Bounds Forward Operating Base near the Antelope Wells Port of Entry in New Mexico, U.S. Border Patrol officials said.
About 40 minutes later, agents in El Paso encountered a large group of about 219 people attempting to cross the border illegally at a segment of the border fence near Downtown.
On Thursday, agents apprehended about 209 migrants near Antelope Wells, officials said.
Most of the migrants were Central American families and unaccompanied children, officials said.
“This is an ongoing situation that Border Patrol Agents face in southern New Mexico and El Paso, Texas: Hundreds of parents and children are being encountered by agents after having faced a dangerous trek north in the hands of unscrupulous smugglers,” U.S. Border Patrol officials said in a news release. “Criminal organizations continue to exploit innocent human lives in order to enhance their illicit activities without due regard to the risks of human life. In most cases these smugglers never cross the border themselves in order to avoid apprehension.”
The capture of thousands of migrants along the Southwest border led U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations officials to reallocate resources to areas to investigate human smuggling operations and the use of fraudulent documents.
ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations has temporarily shifted about 330 deportation officers to areas at or near the border or to areas within the U.S. most deeply impacted by the surge of migrants at the Southwest border, officials said in a statement.
“ICE Homeland Security Investigations is redirecting resources to the border in response to cases of fake families using forged documents to illegally enter our country and avoid detention. Our highly-skilled teams are working to stop individuals, networks and organizations facilitating child smuggling and document fraud,” ICE Acting Director Matthew Albence said in a statement. “ICE along with our partners at CBP, remain committed to protecting children by ensuring they are not used as pawns by individuals attempting to gain entry to the U.S. through fraud.”
Officials said that smugglers are using forged birth certificates or other fraudulent documents in order to “create fake families seeking to exploit U.S. immigration laws.”
Migrants also have been seen using forged or other fake documents to falsely claim they are minors, officials said.
Suspects being prosecuted over false claims, fraud, illegal entry
ICE officials said that on April 22, Homeland Security Investigations special agents became suspicious of two family units that were presenting themselves as two fathers with their sons. Two men were found to be 23-year-olds pretending to be minors. All four are being prosecuted for visa fraud and making false statements.
On April 18, the statement said, an adult Honduran man presented a false birth certificate for a 7-year-old child traveling with him. During an interview, the man admitted he was not related to the child. He is being prosecuted for illegal entry and the child was turned over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement as an unaccompanied minor, according to procedures required in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, the ICE statement said.
According to ICE officials, the agency deployed three teams the week of April 16 to help support U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers dealing with the large influx of migrants in the El Paso and Las Curces areas. The number of agents comprising each team was not released.
Teams also have been sent to Eagle Pass and Harlingen, Texas; Yuma, Ariz.; and El Centro and San Diego, Calif., officials said.
Homeland Security Investigations special agents have conducted about 100 family unit interviews and allegedly discovered evidence of fraud in more than a quarter of the cases, officials said.
U.S. Border Patrol agents in the El Paso sector, which covers far West Texas and all of New Mexico, have detained more than 53,000 family groups this fiscal year compared with about 3,000 families last year, according to agency data.
© 2019 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas)
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