A Honduran man who had been deported in 2013 was charged with alien smuggling in Texas last week for trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border with a 6-month-old child he falsely claimed was his son, U.S. immigration officials said.
In recent months, ICE -- the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency -- has stepped up its crackdown on fraud involving children, piloting a DNA program that could help identify groups of people falsely claiming to be family in order to take advantage of U.S. immigration law.
Amilcar Guiza-Reyes, a 51-year-old citizen and national of Honduras, was charged with alien smuggling in a federal court in the Southern District of Texas on May 10 after presenting a fraudulent Honduran birth certificate for a child he had brought with him into the U.S. three days earlier.
“Cases like this demonstrate the real danger that exists to children in this disturbing new trend,” Alysa Erichs, ICE’s acting executive associate director of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), said in a statement Thursday.
“And while we have seen egregious cases of smugglers renting and recycling children, this case involving a six-month-old infant is a new low – and an unprecedented level of child endangerment,” she said.
Families trying to claim asylum cannot be held in ICE custody for more than 20 days as per a 2015 court ruling known as the Flores Settlement, the Washington Examiner reported.
The Trump administration has repeatedly argued the 20-day deadline serves as an incentive for unaccompanied minors and families to cross the border and live in the U.S. without legal status for months or years before an overwhelmed U.S. immigration system can process their asylum claims or deport them.
U.S. Border Patrol spotted Guiza-Reyes on May 7 wading across the Rio Grande River from Mexico toward the border near Hidalgo, Texas, with the baby in his arms, authorities said. The man allegedly told agents the child was his son.
After Guiza-Reyes presented a fraudulent Honduran birth certificate for the child to the Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, he was referred to ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) for further questioning. The man later admitted that he was not the infant’s father and that he obtained the fraudulent documents to use the child to advance his unlawful entry into the United States, the statement said.
The child, whose name will not be released for privacy reasons, is in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services for placement. The 6-month-old is now considered to be an unaccompanied minor.
The Department of Homeland Security deployed 130 workers to the border, including special agents, forensic interview specialists, document examiners and victim assistance specialists, in recent months to help investigate cases of fraud involving children.
Last week, the HSI piloted a new DNA testing program that would help identify cases of fraud involving families crossing the border. Officials said 562 families have been interviewed by HSI agents between mid-April and May 10 on suspicion of fraud. The agency said it identified 95 fraudulent families out of this group and found more than 176 fraudulent documents.
“Our goals remain twofold: One, to protect children from being smuggled across the border by ensuring they are with their parents and not being used as pawns by individuals attempting to exploit immigration loopholes,” Erichs said. “And two, to identify and stop the criminal organizations that are generating false documents and supporting child smuggling.”