Reports Reveal Sharp Increase in Human Smuggling; Coyote Caught 23 Times, Never Charged

WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is seeking details on the Obama Administration’s handling of criminals who profit from human smuggling of undocumented immigrants, including children, into the United States.  Grassley’s questions follow several media reports and internal government documents revealing an increase in human smuggling across the border and few consequences for perpetrators.
A recent Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report confirmed that human smuggling rings are exploiting children in order to prevent the detention of the undocumented immigrants they’re smuggling into the United States. They are pairing children with unrelated adults, knowing adults who enter the United States with children won’t be detained. At least one Honduran interviewed by DHS officials reported that children are kidnapped or adopted then smuggled with their unrelated adult “family member” to the United States. This smuggling practice has bolstered an underground market for counterfeit birth certificates according to the report, which was prepared by the DHS Human Smuggling Cell.  Once in the U.S., these children are vulnerable to labor or sex trafficking.  Grassley expressed similar concerns regarding the use of faux family units to avoid detention last December.
Grassley is also raising questions about the executive branch’s efforts to detain smugglers following news reports that one known smuggler had been apprehended by immigration officials 24 times dating back to the Clinton Administration, but was only charged with a crime after his most recent arrest.  The administration’s failure to hold smugglers accountable not only allows the illicit and dangerous activity to continue, but it also empowers perpetrators to expand criminal smuggling operations which often take undocumented immigrants on long and dangerous journeys.
In a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, Grassley is seeking details on agency policies and practices regarding human smugglers and recidivism rates of smugglers who have been released by immigration officials. 
Grassley has previously sought details on the increase in smuggling of individuals from countries with ties to terrorism through Latin America to the United States, which was outlined in a separate internal DHS report.  The report indicated that organized smuggling rings are taking advantage of weaknesses in federal enforcement and screening practices.
April 5, 2016
The Honorable Sarah R. Saldaña
Assistant Secretary
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Washington, D.C. 20536
The Honorable R. Gil Kerlikowske
U.S. Customs and Border Protection 
Washington, D.C. 20229
Dear Assistant Secretary Saldaña and Commissioner Kerlikowske:
On March 27, 2016, multiple news outlets reported that Efrain Delgado-Rosales, a known human smuggler, had been apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials 23 times for smuggling undocumented immigrants into the United States since July 1999.  Apparently, it was only after his 24th encounter with CBP that he was detained and charged with a crime.   According to reports, smugglers are charging individuals thousands of dollars, up to $20,000 USD per person, to be smuggled on the dangerous journey across the border into the United States.   
Unfortunately, reports of human smuggling have become all too common.  In a letter dated January 5, 2016, addressed to Secretary Johnson, I voiced my concerns about an unpublished Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report disclosed to the Committee that demonstrated  a “notable”  increase in 2015 of smuggled individuals arriving from countries with ties to terrorism known as specially designated countries (SDCs)  – including Pakistan, Somalia, and Syria.  And recently, at least one news outlet raised concern with CBP “fudging” apprehension rate statistics of illegal entry of those from SDCs.     
Further, in December 2015, a letter was sent to the Department inquiring into a newer smuggling practice whereby Unaccompanied Children (UAC) are paired with unrelated adults then smuggled across the border.  A recent report received from the DHS Human Smuggling Cell confirmed that smugglers are exploiting children by pairing them with unrelated adults to create the appearance of a family unit to avoid detention in the United States.  Migrants from the Northern Triangle even admitted to paying for counterfeit birth certificates to demonstrate a paternal relationship with the children.  One Honduran interviewed by DHS officials reported that children are kidnapped, adopted, and families are even negotiating the use of their children by smugglers or migrants for the sole purpose of creating a faux family unit to avoid detention in the United States.   
Failing to detain known smugglers is not only a threat to our national security, but it poses grave risk to the health and safety of countless individuals, including children smuggled and exploited by Delgado-Rosales and other human smugglers. 
For a more thorough understanding of the current smuggling crisis, please answer the following questions no later than April 18, 2016.
1.    What is the average recidivism rate for known smugglers like Delgado-Rosales over a 5 year period?  How does CBP track smugglers that cross the United States border?
2.    Please provide the current CBP policy for tracking, apprehending, and detaining smugglers.  Is it the practice of the department to return a smuggler to his or her country of origin without detaining or filing charges? Please explain. 
3.    How many known smugglers have been apprehended and returned to their country of origin from Fiscal Year 2012-2016?  How many smugglers have recidivism rates of 25 or more times? More than 50 times? More than 75 times? 
4.    What are the top 10 countries of origin of known human smugglers? How many smugglers does CBP have data on from each of these countries? 
5.    Of the 24 encounters Border Patrol had with Delgado-Rosales, were there any occasions on which he had smuggled UACs into the United States? Please explain.
6.    How many smugglers have been detained from SDCs from Fiscal year 2012-2016? Which SDCs have they smuggled people from?   
7.    In the recent smuggling report, the Human Smuggling Cell recognized certain “intelligence gaps” of information.  What is being done to close these intelligence gaps? 
8.    How does the Department determine whether a family unit is actually a legal family entity? How does the Department verify the authenticity of birth certificates or other similar documentation? Please explain. 
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.  Should you have any questions, please contact Katherine Nikas of my Committee staff at (202) 224-5225.
Charles E. Grassley 
Senate Committee on the Judiciary
The Honorable Patrick Leahy
Ranking Member 
Senate Committee on the Judiciary