Grassley: Human Smugglers Exploit Lax Immigration Enforcement
Prepared Senate Floor Statement by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee
On the need for Congressional Action to discourage Human Smuggling and Exploitation
June 26, 2018
Over the past few days, the issue of family separation has reached a fever pitch. This is a crisis that has been brewing since the surge of young migrants across our borders in 2014.
I have said it before, but I will say it again, I find it ridiculous to suggest that Republicans somehow support the idea of separating families. No one wants to see families separated. No one wants to see families exploited.
To suggest otherwise is to feed the frenzy that has been whipped up over the last few days.
Lost in this frenzy is the reality that the only groups standing to truly benefit while America is divided here are smugglers, drug cartels, and human traffickers. They know about the weaknesses and loopholes in our current immigration law, and they aren’t afraid to use them. It’s all about profit for them. They don’t care about human lives.
Back in 2015 and 2016, I questioned the Obama Administration’s Department of Homeland Security after receiving reports that human trafficking was increasing, and some smugglers weren’t being arrested even after smuggling people across the border dozens of times.
The lack of consequences emboldened these smugglers.
At that time, I also asked the Department of Homeland Security about a dangerous tactic used by smugglers to pair kids with unrelated adults to create the appearance of family units. And the word “appearance” is key here.
Knowing the legal loopholes better than most, these smugglers knew that our laws, like the Flores settlement agreement, prevented family detention. Flores v. Reno effectively prohibited the government from maintaining custody of immigrant children even when they are with their families. Through this agreement, the government sent the message that if you come alone, you’d be detained. But if you come as a family, you’ll likely be released. Understanding this, smugglers knew they could “sell” this false freedom and build a cruel, new business model.
In 2015, I was horrified to learn that human smuggling rings were exploiting children and selling them to the highest bidder to get to the US and avoid detention. That’s right. Smugglers would use kids like pawns in an effort to help adults avoid detention when coming across our border. To truly help families, any solution we come up with must protect against this evil stunt.
Department officials reported that kids were being kidnapped, or adopted then smuggled with their unrelated adult “family member” to the United States.
U.S. Government officials work closely with foreign officials, trying to locate and safely return these kidnapped children to their mothers and fathers. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen.
For example, a woman paid a smuggling organization in Brazil $13,000 in fees to smuggle her to the United States. She flew from Brazil to Mexico where she was “paired” with a minor child. She was then instructed to claim the child as her own upon arrival to the United States.
After learning about this scam, ICE intervened and the woman was removed. The child, however, was never found.
She’ll never be reunited with her real family, she’s likely separated from them forever. And that’s all because the flaws in our current immigration system permitted, and encouraged, her to be trafficked.
I heard just yesterday that Customs and Border Protection have temporarily stopped referring cases for criminal prosecution. But that is exactly what the Obama Administration did, and it is exactly why we are dealing with this terrible situation in the first place. Failure to refer cases for prosecution will only give the green light to smugglers, once more putting kids at risk.
Now this tactic of creating fake family units isn’t new, and isn’t limited to just a one-time deal.
Last week, Secretary Nielsen reported that this tactic is still being utilized. She stated that “in the last five months, we have a 314 percent increase in adults and children arriving at the border, fraudulently claiming to be a family unit. This is, obviously, of concern.”
These fake family units are often provided with fraudulent documents to support that the group is a family unit.
There’s a whole industry that exists to create fake birth certificates and other documents that show a familial relationship. As the tactic to create these fake family units became more popular, the underground market exploded.
Smugglers are smart, and many of them are masters at gaming our system.
Let me reiterate that the way Flores is currently applied, the government can’t keep immigrant children even if they are with their parents. Flores discourages the federal government from keeping families together in DHS custody. If we remedy this, not only would we be able to keep families together, but we’d also be telling the smugglers who profit from this that their day of making millions off the most vulnerable is over.
So, to me, the answer to this problem appears very simple. We should repeal the Flores decision only as it applies to accompanied children so that DHS can keep families together in family residential centers. That’s simple, and that’s quick.
That’s why last week I worked hand in hand with Senator Tillis to produce a bill that would do just that. Senator Tillis’s thoughtful bill, in addition to repealing parts of the Flores decision, would also allow more immigration court judges to be hired and would provide that detained families have their cases heard first.
Senator Tillis’s bill would immediately end this crisis, and wouldn’t return us to the failed catch and release policies that even former Obama DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson acknowledges are poor public policy.
So I hope my colleagues will join with Senator Tillis and me to fix this problem. The American people are counting on it. Thousands of families are depending on it.
Thank you and I yield the floor.