Feds in Southern Arizona turn attention to family fraud at border

Sunday, May 5, 2019
By Paul Martin

By Curt Prendergast
May 4, 2019

As thousands of migrant families from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador seek asylum in the United States, federal agencies in Southern Arizona are turning their attention to migrants who pose as families to better their chances of being released from custody.

Last week, the Border Patrol’s Yuma Sector reported more than 700 fraudulent family claims since October. Homeland Security Investigations sent a team of special agents to Yuma in late April to investigate those claims.

Soon, HSI will start a pilot project at two border cities to take biometrics of children if special agents suspect the children are being “rented” out by smugglers, HSI officials said.

The family fraud claims amount to a small portion of migrant families that cross the border, surrender to Border Patrol agents and ask for asylum. The more than 700 fraudulent claims in the Yuma Sector came as 24,200 migrant family members were apprehended at the border near Yuma from October to March, according to Border Patrol statistics.

Borderwide, federal officials said they had seen about 3,100 fraudulent family claims since April 2018, alongside about 260,000 migrant family members.

The Tucson Sector reported about 6,750 migrant family members from October to March but declined to share information about fraud claims.

Federal officials did not provide specifics about cases of family fraud or how many were referred for prosecution. The Arizona Daily Star searched federal court records in Tucson and Yuma and found 53 prosecutions involving those claims since June 2018, along with 15 cases of adults using fraudulent birth certificates to claim to be minors.

For the most part, the family fraud cases found by the Star occurred near Yuma and were treated as misdemeanors. All but three cases led to quick guilty pleas for illegally crossing the border and ended with prison sentences ranging from a few days to about six weeks.

In a recent case, a Guatemalan man used a false birth certificate on Monday in an attempt to show Border Patrol agents near San Luis he was the father in a family. He was sentenced on Tuesday to 15 days in federal prison, court records show.

In an Aug. 30 case, a pair of Mexican men each paid $260 for authentic birth certificates belonging to a Guatemalan man and a Guatemalan minor with the same last name. The Mexican men walked into the San Luis port of entry, posing as the Guatemalans, and said they were headed to Nashville to look for work. They were sentenced to 20 days in federal prison, court records show.

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