According to the findings of a recent program, many illegal immigrants who seek asylum never show up for required court hearings, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
McAleenan also told senators that based on one pilot program, 15 percent of alleged migrant families are committing fraud by claiming unrelated children as their own, according to The Hill.
The hearing was convened to discuss a proposal by Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham to establish refugee processing centers in Mexico and Central America. During the hearing, the South Carolina Republican asked McAleenan how many asylum seekers show up for their required asylum hearings.
According to current immigration law, most asylum seekers are released into communities and then expected to return to court to hear their request for asylum.
“It depends on demographic, the court, but we see too many cases where people are not showing up,” he said, noting the results of one program.
“Out of those 7,000 cases, 90 received final orders of removal in absentia, 90 percent,” he said, according to Fox News.
“90 percent did not show up?” Graham asked.
“Correct, that is a recent sample from families crossing the border,” McAleenan said.
McAleenan said agencies at the border cannot keep up with the numbers of migrants crossing illegally.
“We encountered a modern record of 144,000 border crossers [last month], a record day of over 5,800 border crossings in a single 24-hour period and the largest single group ever apprehended at our border, 1,036 individuals,” McAleenan said, according to WJLA.
“This crisis is unlike anything we’ve ever seen at our border and it, in large part, is due to the gaps in our immigration laws that are driving it,” he said.
McAleenan said current policies encourage illegal immigrants to enter the country and are “placing children at unique and critical risk.”
McAleenan said migrants and smugglers believe “a child is a passport to migration in the United States.”
As such, what he called “child recycling rings” exist, including one in which the same eight children were used to help bring in 36 adults. He also cited the case of a 51-year-old man who paid $80 to rent a 6-month-old child so he could avoid deportation by appearing to be a family.
In a snapshot of what’s taking place, McAleenan said a three-day program in which DNA tests were taken found that 15 percent of the people who claimed the child with them was theirs were lying.
McAleenan said he supported Graham’s proposal.
“First of all, it would break the back of the smuggling organizations, they’re profiting from this cycle. It would provide access to asylum in country in a much safer manner than taking this dangerous journey and it would stop this flow immediately. I believe the vast majority [of the migrant flow] would stop,” he said.
McAleenan’s comments continued the string of officials telling Congress the border crisis is real and growing worse.
“Our apprehension numbers are off the charts,” Carla Provost, chief of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, told the Senate Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration last month.
“We cannot address this crisis by shifting more resources. It’s like holding a bucket under a faucet. It doesn’t matter how many buckets we have if we can’t turn off the flow,” she said, according to The Washington Post.
During the hearing, Nathalie Asher, acting executive director of enforcement and removal operations for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, outlined the issue in a prepared statement in which she noted that the numbers of unaccompanied children are up 45 percent and family units are up 218 percent.
“They have received the message loud and clear: Bring a child, you will be released. From interviews that we have done with the families we are apprehending, they are hearing that message loud and clear. They are hearing that from the smugglers, they are hearing that from the media down in the Northern Triangle,” she said, referring to Central American nations from which most migrants flee.
Asher said the flood of illegal immigrants has resulted in thousands being released without officials ever being able to track them down. She said that since December, over 160,000 illegal immigrants were released with instructions to report to an immigration court, but few did.
“Between the continuing influx of family units, the growing immigration court backlog of almost 900,000 cases, and the fact that there are often no consequences for those who fail to depart as ordered, very few members of family units will be removed; the push and pull factors that incentivize families to make the dangerous journey to this country must be addressed,” she said.
“As a result of these issues, of the family units from Central America who were apprehended at the southern border in FY 2017, more than 98 percent remain in the country today,” she said, later adding that “most members of this population remain non-detained with little or no oversight.”
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