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OPINION

Fake Families

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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Editor's Note: This excerpt is taken with permission from the new book by Townhall contributor Todd Bensman titled Overrun, How Joe Biden Unleashed the Greatest Border Crisis in U.S. History, released February 21. It is taken from Chapter Seven, "Mexico Triggers Noah’s Flood."

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Policies that created special rights for people who cross the border with children naturally elevated the value of children among those without special rights. In that environment, children became a rare-earth commodity for barter, sale, rent, or trade. 

They were visas, permission slips, crossing passes. Any parent with more than one found that they could defray thousands of dollars in smuggling costs to get the whole family in.

We first saw the advent of “fake families” during the 2018–2019 Trump-era crisis when nearly a million family group members rushed in to exploit the recently discovered Flores loophole’s twenty-one-day detention-and-release provision. Among them were adults bringing in children who were not theirs. Quite a few iterations of “kinship fraud,” as the government calls it, arose in the new black market for kids-as-visas.

Monica Maple, a retired assistant special in charge of the San Antonio office of ICE Homeland Security Investigations who managed the agency’s response, told me about the most common one. Most typically, human smugglers or brokers in home countries would cut package deals with a parent of two or more children. 

Strangers would pay to take one over, defraying the cost to parents who would keep one child to take over themselves. Parents who agreed to do this could have most or all of their huge smuggling fees waived to bring the whole family over.

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The fake parents would do all the paying.

Sure there was risk handing a kid over to a nonparent. But the incentive was intoxicating. The smugglers honed the package to include altered, counterfeit, or fraudulently attained birth certificates—often through corrupt Honduran government officials—that would match children to nonparents smuggling over the border, said Maple, who retired in 2020.

Once on the U.S. side later, the parents would recover their kids, hopefully.

Very young children and infants were most valued because they couldn’t answer Border Patrol questions and blow everyone’s cover, Maple told me. That’s why Border Patrol agents often saw the arrival of single men carrying infants without baby formula, bottles, diapers, or any other accoutrements indicating infant caretaking.

Maple said she believed the scam was widespread, based on the constant stream of reports and leads her office took in from Border Patrol during the 2018–2019 crisis. But finding dispersed suspects and connecting all the dots made investigating most of the leads extremely difficult. The damage to children was tragic because the mothers have often lost track of their children after everyone was in, Maple told me.

If anyone recalls the occasional media stories about babies and young children found alone and wandering abandoned in the corn fields of South Texas, fake family scams were the culprits.

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Maple went after the cases hard despite strong headwinds.

“It’s a new low for humanity that you would give your child away like this to a stranger,” she said. “I’d hate to see something happen to that child after the handoff occurs. They are with somebody who is not their parent. What if fake mom or fake dad needed to make medical decisions for the child? It’s just not right; the person who is supposed to be protecting them is not there.”

One group of emblematic but rare fake family cases actually prosecuted is laid out in the court records.

In February 2019, Honduran Belkin Idania Martinez-Parada, a mother of four, agreed to a scheme to rent three of her four children, ages six months to twelve years, to three different Honduran men so they could pass through the Texas border as families, court records show. For risking the children, Martinez-Parada would earn free passage for herself and all four kids. 

It was an exceptional deal for the men taking the kids because all had been previously deported more than once and would almost certainly be deported back to Honduras and lose their smuggling fees if they tried it as singles.

But if they came in with a child, Border Patrol would let them pass even though they were deportable. Each of the three men received a fraudulently obtained real birth certificate showing that the kids belonged to them. The whole group traveled together with a smuggler up to the border, then split the children up for separate crossings, an agent complaint stated.

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Martinez-Parada kept the twelve-year-old daughter for herself (remember that older children can be questioned and risk blowing the cover). She gave the valuable six-month-old infant to a stranger who flew with the baby to Florida after entry. She doled out the eight-year-old girl to a second stranger, who took her to Houston after entry. Mom parceled out her six-year-old boy to another man. 

It almost all worked. The whole scheme broke down when the man with the six-year-old boy got caught lying at the border and Border Patrol decided to deport him, Maple said, which started the ICE investigation. The fake father confessed everything because he did not want to take the boy with him.

“It wasn’t his kid. He at least had some morals and ethics,” Maple said.

None of the rest were as saintly, especially not the mom, who was eventually convicted of alien smuggling. The boy ended up alone in a DHS facility and would not see his mother for at least another month.

Her other kids would not see her for a long time either. That’s because Martinez-Parada didn’t bother leaving Mexico with the twelve-year-old for another month, abandoning the infant to a strange family in Florida. The fake father who had her eight-year-old daughter, Kevin Cardona-Perdoma, began complaining bitterly to friends and neighbors on Facebook that the mom didn’t seem to be in any hurry to get her daughter, so he eventually had to leave the child alone every day so he could work, court records in his separate case show.

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One day, he came home, and the girl was gone. A neighbor found her wandering in the parking lot of the apartment complex and took her in. Cardona-Perdoma wrote to friends that he felt so relieved and lucky. But not because the girl was okay. He felt lucky because the neighbor who found the girl wandering alone didn’t call the police. Otherwise, he wrote, “I’d be back in Honduras.”

Martinez-Parada finally came across because DHS investigators who found her in Mexico pestered her to claim her abandoned son, whom the deported fake father left in detention. They also had to demand that she reclaim the infant in Florida after months of her showing no interest, Maple said. “She had no intention of going to get that baby again,” Maple said, adding a string of pejoratives describing how disgusted she felt about this. Federal prosecutors in Del Rio convicted her and the two men who were not deported. 

The Solution Biden’s DHS Will Not Pursue

ICE finally managed to significantly curtail fake family abuse in 2019 by deploying rapid DNA testing to eleven locations across the southern border. These could quickly verify parent-child relationships. Border Patrol would force the families to line up to get their inside cheeks swabbed and have a verification or case of fraud in about ninety minutes, according to a February 2022 DHS Office of Inspector General report.

The program was undeniably impactful. As part of testing the pilot program when it first came out, about 30 percent of everyone tested failed.

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“People who were told they were going to go through the machine were just breaking as they were waiting to give their swab,” Maple said. “It was, ‘Oh yeah, that’s not my daughter; it’s my niece. It’s my cousin or some other story.”

That slowed the fake family scam, maybe even ended it, Maple said. 

But all this is recounted here not because the problem is solved but because of evidence that fake family fraud soared once again in the Biden border crisis, where the numbers of families crossing vastly exceed the numbers seen crossing during the Trump crisis.

Inexplicably, the Biden administration all but ended the DNA testing, conducting a few dozen a month compared to Trump’s 250, the Washington Examiner reported. The Biden DHS was showing no indication that it would test people before releasing most into the country, the paper reported, and would only test when “absolutely necessary” or when there is “significant suspicion.”

The reason?

“This administration wants these families and kids released quickly. That is their No. 1 goal, so they are not going to do anything to slow that process down,” the Examiner quoted one senior DHS official saying.

The disinterest in deterring fake family crossings using the field-proven rapid DNA tests is likely why a May 8, 2022, Wall Street Journal story was able to report that at least several thousand Brazilian children entered the U.S. with an adult who was falsely claiming to be their parent.

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It was the same old story. Most of the time, children are brought over by one real parent with one of them tagging along as a fake parent for the split up at the border and crossings. The real parent received $5,000 for allowing it, helping to defray the biological parent’s smuggling fee, the paper reported, quoting three high-ranking Brazilian federal police investigators.

I asked Maple what she thought of reports that thousands of fake families were again crossing the border but this time with little U.S. government resistance.

Her answer?

“Horror. Horror. Horror. Horror.”

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