Authorities are investigating claims that migrant men in Tijuana, Mexico, are attempting to buy children from poor, single mothers living at shelters so they increase their chances of being released from border detention centers sooner and gaining asylum in the U.S.
The San Diego Union-Tribune has reported that women staying at Tijuana shelters fear their children will be kidnapped after seeing groups of men approaching mothers offering to purchase their children to expedite their process of seeking asylum.
When children are accompanied by adults crossing the border, current U.S. law stipulates that they ought to be held in custody temporarily, be released with parents or guardians with whom they arrived and then wait for their asylum cases to be processed in immigration courts.
“I can’t go to work because I can’t take my eyes off my boys,” Antonia Portillo Cruz, a 44-year-old Honduran migrant, told the outlet.
Portillo Cruz said the men have been targeting the Tijuana shelter where she stays. While she has not been approached she has seen other women being asked to consider selling their kids for approximately $350 each. She is fearful that the offers from the men approaching women to buy their kids will eventually become kidnappings and as a result never allows her two boys, who are 8 and 10, to leave her line of sight.
“They want to rob our kids so they can cross into the United States,” she said.
Border authorities have been warning for over a year that some migrants crossing the border are using children that are not related to them but are posing as families in order to more easily enter the U.S.
Critics say such claims have been inflated. But the Tijuana municipal police have confirmed the reports and said federal authorities are investigating.
The men who smuggle migrants across the border or who are involved in financial transactions that facilitate such journeys are often referred to as "coyotes."
Reports of authorities investigating the men approaching women in shelters come amid renewed scrutiny — most notably in a June 21 New York Times article about a Texas facility — over the conditions at border detention centers and increased attention to immigration policy, particularly as Democrat presidential candidates start debating each other and the 2020 election season nears.
Crystallizing the intense anguish over illegal immigration was a photo of Óscar and Valeria Martinez, whose bodies were shown face-down in the waters of the Rio Grande River in Matamoros after they had drowned. Martinez, his wife and daughter had left El Salvador in April in an attempt to cross into the U.S. to seek asylum.
Despite significant criticism for its handling of the situation on the border, the Trump administration has thus far shown no sign of changing course and is asserting that their political opponents are now manufacturing outrage, having previously dismissed the surge of immigrants and humanitarian crisis at the southern border as a "manufactured crisis."
"After spending the last six months denying there was a crisis at our southern border and doing nothing while our courageous and compassionate Customs and Border Protection personnel were overwhelmed by that crisis, now some Democrats want to lecture us about their moral concern,” Vice President Mike Pence said at the Faith & Freedom Coalition's annual gala in Washington, D.C., last month.
“There's nothing compassionate about refusing to change the laws that human traffickers use to take advantage of poor families,” he said. “Those who would advocate open borders, free health care for illegal immigrants and making illegal immigration legal are making it easier for human traffickers to mistreat poor and vulnerable families. That is morally wrong. And that has got to stop.”
Yet while the percentage of family fraud — migrants posing with children to gain easier access — remains very low, the numbers have grown.
In fiscal year 2017, Department of Homeland Security data show that there were 46 cases of family fraud. In fiscal year 2018, there were 600.
Tijuana, which is known for its night life and a shopping destination, is located in the Mexican state of Baja California, a state which, has no way to keeping track of migrant children, according to Albert Rivera, a pastor at Agape Mission shelter in the southern part of the city.
Rivera said he has been communicating with authorities about criminal groups looking for and offering money to unaccompanied minors in order to link them with an adult so both can cross the U.S. border as though they are a family.
“One of the problems is the state government of Baja California has no system to monitor these unaccompanied kids, so they have no idea how many are here and would have no idea if some were missing,” Rivera said.