Migrant smugglers are using groups of children to divert Border Patrol from adults crossing into the U.S., agents say -- part of a strategy to take advantage of overwhelmed law enforcement who are tackling a spike in migrant numbers.
A border agent in Arizona, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Fox News that he had witnessed smugglers using large groups of unaccompanied children to divert resources away from smaller groups of single adults.
Former acting Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Mark Morgan told Fox News he saw it himself during a recent trip to McAllen, Texas.
"It is absolutely happening," he said, adding that it was also happening in 2019 during the border crisis during the Trump administration.
"They will keep families, they will keep unaccompanied minors in the stash house on the Mexican side, overcrowded, unsanitary, no medical attention, no social distancing, no PPE, and they will keep them in stash houses until they get a certain number of people," he said. "They will tag them like cattle, write on their shirts or give them a bracelet, they will take them all and hold them and that's exactly what they'll do. They will bring them across in one area and say 'go here.'"
He said that in McAllen, there was a steady stream of about 200 unaccompanied minors and family units in the space of an hour -- some needing medical attention and ambulances -- which consumed Border Patrol’s attention, and leaving a gap open elsewhere.
"While the Border Patrol agents are distracted providing humanitarian care, drugs and criminal aliens are just pouring through wide open, unmonitored unsecured areas," he said. "It happened constantly in 2019 and it’s happening right now today."
A senior CBP official confirmed to Fox News that the agency was aware of smugglers using large groups of children to strategically divert resources away from both smugglers and from smaller groups of adults.
Meanwhile, Fox recently reported that smugglers send groups of asylum seekers through current gaps in the Border Wall to overwhelm the agents. When agents leave to intercept or apprehend one group, another group scampers across.
The tactics by the smugglers points to the overwhelming challenges facing the law enforcement officials on the ground. The U.S. has seen a dramatic spike in migrants coming to the border, with preliminary numbers suggesting officials encountered more than 171,000 migrants in March.
Single adults and family units can be expelled via Title 42 public health protections implemented during the Trump administration. But the Biden administration is not applying Title 42 to UACs, while Mexico is refusing to take back families with tender-aged children (under 7.) It has led to images of migrants packed into over-capacity facilities, and renewing criticism of the administration’s handling of the crisis.
Meanwhile the number of unaccompanied children has also increased. Currently There are more than 4,000 children in CBP custody and more than 15,000 in Health and Human Services care.
Fox News' William LaJeunesse contributed to this report.