Speaking on Monday at the annual National Association of Sheriffs conference in New Orleans, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told her listeners that migrants are fraudulently posing as family units in order to petition for asylum at the U.S. Border. “From October 2017 to this February, we have seen a staggering 315 per cent increase in illegal aliens fraudulently using children to pose as family units to gain entry into the country,” she told sheriffs. “This must stop. All this does is put the children at risk.”

President Donald Trump tweeted on Monday, asking Democrats to help “fix the world’s worst immigration laws,” and “Children are being used by some of the worst criminals on earth as a means to enter our country.”

According to Nielsen, asylum applicants are “'posing as families” and are “well coached” to abuse federal law and endanger children. She explained that many persons who present as family members are not actually related, thus making the separation of children from adults a necessity. She noted that her department saw a 316 percent increase in the number of “illegal aliens fraudulently using children to pose as family units to gain entry into the country” between October 2017 and February 2018. Nielsen defended the Trump administration following acute criticism from Democrats and immigration advocates over separating illegal immigrant adults from children. She told the sheriffs that President Donald Trump's “zero tolerance” policy means bringing to an end what she called the “get-out-of-jail-free cards” represented by illegal immigrants who use children. She also said that federal law allows DHS to quickly deport Mexican and Canadian nationals but requires the government to hold others for long periods of time. However, the children of those immigrants may be held for only 20 days, which means that they are frequently released with the people who smuggled them into the country. She called on Congress to change the law allowing the separation of adult and child migrants, but insisted that the Trump administration “we will not apologize for doing our job” of enforcing the law.

Nielsen said Monday that “we do not have the luxury of pretending that all individuals coming to this country as a family unit are in fact a family.” She added, “We have to do our job. We will not apologize for doing our job.” She said that DHS has asked Congress to “to allow us to keep families together while they are detained.” On Monday, White House spokeswoman Mercedes Schlapp said 200,000 illegal immigrant family units have been released into the U.S. since 2016. She said that Democrats are effectively advocating for human traffickers such as “an MS-13 gang member walking in with a one-year-old.” Nielsen criticized the low bar set by federal law for establishing a “credible fear” of persecution or physical harm that applicants must prove for asylum. She said that foreigners seeking asylum can make their claims at regular ports of entry instead of crossing illegally. She said that in the last seven years, the U.S. has seen the number of asylum-seekers skyrocket.

Nielsen said over the weekend that her department has asked Congress to adjust the standard of proof in order to prevent well-coached applicants from fraudulently claiming persecution in their home countries. According to the Department of Justice, 80 percent of asylum cases are rejected, even while initial false claims stretch out the adjudication process. Another issue is the discrepancy in how Mexican nationals differently from people of other nationalities. While Mexicans can be returned quickly to Mexico, persons from other countries cannot be deported until a lengthy process has been completed. Children who come from countries south of Mexico and trek north must be handed over to the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours.

“Why is our system built on treating people from Mexico and Canada different than any other country?” Nielsen asked. Nielsen said “advocacy groups” and media were unfairly blaming Trump and DHS for the policy that has separated nearly 2,000 children from their parents. On the weekend, Nielsen tweeted, “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.”

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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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