Illegal immigrants hoping to win entry into the U.S. under a judge's interpretation of border policy are kidnapping children and then posing as families before attempting to cross the Mexican border, a top Justice Department official told a federal appeals court on Tuesday.

The claim, reported by The Washington Times, was made by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Leon Fresco, who was defending the Obama administration’s policy of detaining illegal immigrant parents and children caught together at the border. The case was an appeal of a federal judge's order in a civil case brought by illegal imigrant families that agents release families quickly.

“When people now know that when I come as a family unit, I won’t be apprehended and detained — we now have people being abducted so that they can be deemed as family units, so that they can avoid detention,” Fresco told the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that handles detention and deportation, declined to comment.

Peter Schey, president of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, which is representing illegal immigrant families detained under the old policy in their suit against the government, told the newspaper there was no evidence to back Fresco’s claim.

“We know zero instances of that, and there’s zero support for that anywhere in the record,” he said. “If they know of any such instances, I would think they would bring the actual instances to the attention of the court.”

Unaccompanied minors from nations not bordering the U.S., who under a 1990s ruling must be processed quickly and released, have flooded across the border over the last two years. But the latest controversy involves illegal immigrant families who travel from Central America through Mexico to reach the border.

The Obama administration has opened several new detention facilities to hold the families until they can be deported in an effort to signal those still in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras that trying to enter the U.S. will be futile.

Immigrant rights advocates challenged the detention. Last year U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee agreed and issued an order that all children, including those who travel with families, be processed and released without delay.

Fresco told the appeals court on Tuesday that the 1990s ruling was supposed to apply only to unaccompanied minors, and made his statement that applying it across the board invited kidnappings.

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