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US Border Patrol Collects Biometrics of More Migrant Children

The Border Patrol says that in the last year, it’s stopped roughly 3,100 adults and children fraudulently posing as families so they can be released into the U.S. quickly rather than face detention or rapid deportation

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US migrant
FILE - Families who crossed the nearby U.S.-Mexico border near McAllen, Texas, are placed in a Border Patrol vehicle, March 14, 2019. U.S. border authorities have increased the biometric data they take from children 13 and younger. VOA

U.S. border authorities say they’ve started to increase the biometric data they take from children 13 years old and younger, including fingerprints, despite privacy concerns and government policy intended to restrict what can be collected from migrant youths.

A Border Patrol official said this week that the agency had begun a pilot program to collect the biometrics of children with the permission of the adults accompanying them, though he did not specify where along the border it has been implemented.

The Border Patrol also has a “rapid DNA pilot program” in the works, said Anthony Porvaznik, the chief patrol agent in Yuma, Arizona, in a video interview published by the Epoch Times newspaper.

Spokesmen for the Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security did not return several messages from The Associated Press seeking comment on both programs.

US migrant
FILE – Migrant families walk from the Rio Grande, the river separating the U.S. and Mexico in Texas, near McAllen, Texas, right before being apprehended by Border Patrol, March 14, 2019. VOA

‘Kids that are being rented’

The Border Patrol says that in the last year, it’s stopped roughly 3,100 adults and children fraudulently posing as families so they can be released into the U.S. quickly rather than face detention or rapid deportation.

The Department of Homeland Security has also warned of “child recycling,” cases where they say children allowed into the U.S. were smuggled back into Central America to be paired up again with other adults in fake families — something they say is impossible to catch without fingerprints or other biometric data.

“Those are kids that are being rented, for lack of a better word,” Porvaznik said.

But the Border Patrol has not publicly identified anyone arrested in a “child recycling” scheme or released data on how many such schemes have been uncovered. Advocates say they’re worried that in the name of stopping fraud, agents might take personal information from children that could be used against them later.

“Of course child trafficking exists,” said Karla Vargas, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project. But she warned against implementing “a catch-all” policy that could reduce the rights of people who are legally seeking asylum.

At a round table with President Donald Trump broadcast in February, one Border Patrol official described a case he said led to eight indictments in South Carolina, including of a Guatemalan woman who said she had “recycled” children 13 times for payments of $1,500 a child. The U.S. attorney’s office in South Carolina told the AP this week that case was sealed and declined to comment on it.

US migrants
Cuban migrants queue to enter El Paso, Texas, for their appointment to request asylum in the U.S., at the Paso del Norte international border crossing bridge, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, April 1, 2019. VOA

The numbers of unauthorized border crossings are surging this year, with new records being set monthly for the number of families entering the U.S. outside legal points of entry. Most are from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, and many adults and children who cross seek asylum under U.S. law.

The Border Patrol has warned that its holding facilities are past capacity and that it doesn’t have the staff or resources to detain migrants. It will soon open two tent facilities at the Texas border for processing and detention, and immigration agencies are releasing families within a day or two to clear detention space.

Facing pressure from Trump to reduce illegal crossings, Homeland Security officials have blamed the high numbers partly on adults posing as parents to avoid detention.

Not a parent, but a relative

In one case filed in federal court in El Paso this month, authorities accused a Guatemalan man of having a fake birth certificate printed that claimed he was the father of a teenager who crossed the border illegally with him. Authorities say the teen agreed to go with the man because he wanted to leave Guatemala. They could not confirm the teen’s age.

But advocates say the Border Patrol regularly cites fraud when it separates a child from an adult relative who isn’t a parent, even if the relative is the child’s effective guardian.

The Texas Civil Rights Project published a study in February that counted 272 separated families at a single Texas courthouse since June, after the official end of the zero-tolerance policy that led to thousands of family separations earlier in 2018. Of those, 234 involved adult siblings, aunts and uncles, or other relatives of the children.

DHS regulations say the department can require the fingerprints of anyone entering the country illegally, but those regulations exempt anyone under 14.

US migrants
The Border Patrol says that in the last year, it’s stopped roughly 3,100 adults and children fraudulently posing as families so they can be released into the U.S. quickly rather than face detention or rapid deportation. VOA

Permission to fingerprint

Porvaznik, the chief agent in Yuma, Arizona, told the Epoch Times that under the pilot program agents can fingerprint children under 14 “if we get permission from the adult that they’re with.” However, legal experts say that interpretation can be challenged in court.

“DHS may claim that they can get around this bar by getting parental permission, but that interpretation is subject to court challenge,” Cornell law professor Stephen Yale-Loehr said. “To do this legally, DHS needs to go through the rulemaking process to change the regulation.”

Vargas of the Texas Civil Rights Project said she often spoke to immigrant parents who had signed paperwork they didn’t fully understand. “It’s never presented to immigrants as, ‘You have a choice of whether or not to sign this,’” Vargas said.

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Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a researcher at George Mason University, said that while she has doubts about the expanded data collection, it could have an “unintended positive outcome.”

“It will be easier to conduct investigations related to trafficking of migrant children, kidnapping or other crimes that affect this vulnerable segment of the migrant population,” she said. (VOA)

Next Story

US Allows Migrant Children to Languish in ‘Prisonlike Conditions’ Instead of Releasing them

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services does not allow news media to speak to children at guided tours of the facility

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migrant kids, US-Mexico border
FILE - Children line up to enter a tent at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children in Homestead, Fla., April 19, 2019. Immigrant advocates say the U.S. government is allowing migrant children to languish in “prisonlike conditions” instead of releasing them. VOA

Immigrant advocates say the U.S. government is allowing migrant children at a Florida facility to languish in “prisonlike conditions” after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border instead of releasing them promptly to family as required by federal rules.

A court filing Friday revealed conditions inside the Homestead, Florida, facility that has become the nation’s biggest location for detaining immigrant children. A decades-old settlement governing the care of detained immigrant children calls for them to be released to family members, sponsors or other locations within 20 days, but the court filing accuses the government of keeping kids there for months in some cases.

The children detained at the facility said they longed to be released to their parents and other relatives in the United States and were allowed limited phone calls to loved ones. Some were also told to heed strict rules or it could prolong their detention or get them deported.

Volunteers interview dozens of children

“At Homestead, children are housed in prisonlike conditions and unnecessarily incarcerated for up to several months without being determined to be flight risks or a danger to themselves or others,” said the motion filed by the National Center for Youth Law and other organizations in federal court in Los Angeles.

Dozens of volunteer lawyers, interpreters and other legal workers interviewed more than 70 child migrants at Homestead during several visits over the past year. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services does not allow news media to speak to children at guided tours of the facility.

US-Mexico border, migrant
FILE – Migrant children play soccer at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children in Homestead, Fla., April 19, 2019. VOA

A Honduran boy described arriving with an aunt at the Mexico border in December. She was deported and he was sent to Homestead, where he told attorneys he had been held for four months. He could speak to his mother in Honduras twice a week while waiting to be placed with another aunt in Virginia. He was punched in the face by a boy at the facility but said he didn’t see a doctor or tell his mother, out of fear she would worry more. “Already it is very hard. We both cry on the phone,” he told attorneys. “I have not seen my mom or any family for so long.”

Housing for thousands

The children’s allegations come as officials struggle to accommodate increasing numbers of minors illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The Homestead facility, run by a private contractor, houses 2,200 minors and is expanding to add hundreds of beds. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did not respond to requests for comment. The private contractor, Comprehensive Health Services, declined comment.

Many of the children are fleeing gang and domestic violence and will end up seeking asylum. Most are sent to live with sponsors once they are screened by the U.S. government, usually aunts or uncles or other relatives who are in the U.S.

Children’s testimonials

The court filing included testimonials from more than a dozen children who had been separated from parents last year before the Trump administration ended a policy that led to more than 2,700 children being taken from families. Others, who had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in the past few months, came alone or with relatives such as aunts, uncles, and siblings and were also separated and placed in government custody.

The Trump administration has long complained about the 1997 settlement, which generally means the government should release children in about 20 days. The names of the children were redacted, but they testified being there for weeks, or months, without knowing when they would be released. A girl told attorneys she and her sister were at the same facility but kept in separate areas and only allowed to see each other once a week.

A 14-year-old boy from Honduras said he had problems videoconferencing with the social worker handling his reunification on two separate occasions, as the company began hiring clinicians and case managers to work long-distance.

migrant, US-Mexico border
FILE – Children line up to enter a tent at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children in Homestead, Fla., Feb. 19, 2019. A court filing Friday revealed conditions inside the facility that has become the nation’s biggest for detaining immigrant children. VOA

“Sometimes there are problems with the internet, and I have to cut my call short or not talk to her at all and return another time,” he told attorneys. A Guatemalan girl said she didn’t speak any Spanish, only her native Maya language of Q’eqchi, when she arrived, and she had trouble understanding her social worker.

Families separated

In the same filings, a federal field specialist for the U.S. government’s Office of Refugee Resettlement said the goal is “safe, timely release” but there can be delays, for example, when sponsors can’t read and write. And when there’s no proof of a prior relationship, the sponsor is automatically disqualified, the specialist said, adding “the bottom line is always safety.”

In several occasions, children were flown from Florida to Texas locations promising they would be reunited with a parent, only to be flown back and booked again into the facility. A Guatemalan child expressed willingness to leave the U.S. voluntarily only to be told that a legal department would need to get involved. “It is hard for me to understand what is preventing me from joining my family,” the child said.

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A Salvadoran boy who said he left his country in January fleeing violence said children at the facility can’t touch anyone or fight or they could get a report that will delay their case. He told lawyers that staff told them they would be deported if they tried to escape. He said he couldn’t speak with his parents on his 17th birthday since he had already used one of his twice weekly 10-minute phone calls the day before.

“I miss them, and even though today is my birthday, it is hard because they can’t call me and I can’t call them,” he said. (VOA)