Caitlin Dickerson and Ron Nixon report for the NYT:
“WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is stepping up its pursuit of parents who paid to have their children illegally brought into the United States, according to people familiar with the matter. The effort, part of a widening crackdown on illegal immigration, is aimed at discouraging families from paying human smuggling organizations.
As part of a new round of immigration sweeps, officials are targeting parents or other relatives who were deported, re-entered the United States and then had their children smuggled across the border. Legal experts say cases of illegal re-entry are faster and easier to prove than a smuggling charge.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said it was common for parents or family members in the United States to make illegal payments to smugglers to arrange for children to be brought to the border, where they turn themselves in and are often eventually handed over to their relatives. Tens of thousands of women and children have arrived at the border in the last three years, beginning with a surge of arrivals in the summer of 2014, many seeking refuge from gang violence and extreme poverty in Central America.
It was not clear how many people would be affected by the effort to arrest and prosecute family members for illegal re-entry, but officials familiar with the plan said it would serve as a deterrent to stop other parents and relatives from paying to have children brought to the United States as unaccompanied minors. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss enforcement policies publicly.
ICE officials said they had arrested hundreds of people for smuggling children and referred dozens of cases to the Justice Department for prosecution, including many for illegally re-entering the country and then paying to have children smuggled across the border.
“The risks associated with smuggling children into the U.S. present a constant humanitarian threat,” ICE officials said in a statement. “The sponsors who have placed children directly into harm’s way by entrusting them to violent criminal organizations will be held accountable for their role in these conspiracies.”
Some children reported being raped or held hostage by smugglers for more money. Others have been abandoned by smugglers as they try to cross the border.
Immigration advocates called the new enforcement policy a heartless way to try to reduce smuggling.
“It’s extremely cruel when you started shutting down refugee applicants and rescinding protections for children brought to the country at a young age, to send this kind of message to parents trying to get their kids to safety,” said Chris Rickerd, policy counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington.
Smuggling cases are among the most challenging to prove, and the biggest hurdle is identifying witnesses, who are likely to be undocumented and unwilling to help, according to Michael J. Wynne, who spent 12 years as an assistant United States attorney in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. Targeting parents for re-entering the country illegally, rather than trying to go after them for smuggling, presents prosecutors with a higher likelihood of success.
“It’s a throwdown case,” he said. “You’re going to prosecute the crime where you get the biggest bang for your buck.”
Officials in ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations division have been told to look for cases that can be brought to United States attorneys for possible prosecution, according to people familiar with the enforcement effort. Because prosecutions for illegal re-entry carry a five-year statute of limitations, ICE special agents are also looking to see if they can prosecute relatives of unaccompanied children for other immigration-related crimes, such as giving false statements, according to people familiar with the effort.
Convictions for illegal re-entry are politically popular among immigration restrictionists.
According to Justice Department data analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a nonprofit research group at Syracuse University, illegal re-entry made up the bulk of prosecutions for illegal immigration for the last five years.
The Trump administration has made no secret of its plans to go after parents living in the country illegally who bring in their children.
Earlier this year, administration officials said that the thousands of children who arrived each year as unaccompanied minors would no longer be protected against deportation, reversing an Obama administration policy. John F. Kelly, then the Homeland Security secretary and now the White House chief of staff, wrote a memo in February saying parents would be subject to criminal prosecution if they had paid human traffickers to bring children across the border.
The children, who turn themselves in to the Border Patrol, are handed over to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. The office will either place the children in a shelter or release them to a family member. Immigration officials said most of the unaccompanied children apprehended at the border were eventually turned over to a family member, most often a parent, already living in the United States.
Homeland Security officials acknowledge that many of the children are fleeing violence in their home country, but they say that paying smugglers to transport them to the border endangers the children.”
Read the full article at the link.
Seems like a pretty typical Trump Administration approach: please the White Nationalist/restrictionist base, fill the prisons with nonviolent “criminals,” rack up some nice stats, and make sure not to deal with the root causes of undocumented migration.