Border Agent Allegedly Claimed That 3-Year-Old Child Crossed Border To ‘Look For Work’

An unidentified immigrant from Guatemala and her son at the Artesia Family Residential Center, a federal detention facility for undocumented immigrant mothers and children in Artesia, NM. CREDIT: JUAN CARLOS LLORCA/AP
An unidentified immigrant from Guatemala and her son at the Artesia Family Residential Center, a federal detention facility for undocumented immigrant mothers and children in Artesia, NM. CREDIT: JUAN CARLOS LLORCA/AP

In a rush to screen immigrants to prevent them from staying in the country, one border agent incorrectly identified a three-year-old child as seeking to enter the U.S. for work, alleges a recent American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) amicus brief filed with the United States Department of Justice Board of Immigration Appeal.

At the southern border last year, many children and families expressed “credible fear” to immigrant agents — a preliminary step in determining asylum — saying that they needed to stay in the United States because going back to their native countries would put them at risk of harm or death. Overwhelmed, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were tasked with giving credible fear interviews to migrants and producing accurate records of proceedings as quickly as possible. At the same time, Obama administration officials sought additional resources to expedite deportations for the “vast majority” of migrants who didn’t qualify for asylum or some other form of protection. The emphasis on speedy deportation removals resulted in at least three planes of deportees and many more migrants locked up in detention centers.

That’s why AILA counsels contend that immigration agents compromised the credible fear and reasonable fear process as they were caught up in the fast pace of removals during border screenings. The brief cites the “border screening process, the coercive nature of the detention center, and the systemic defects in the implementation of the credible and reasonable fear interviews” as issues.

In particular, the brief cited the case of a CBP border agent who reportedly signed off on written testimony that he had interrogated Y.F., a migrant border crosser who left his home country to “look for work.” Another agent counter-signed the testimony, attesting to having witnessed the entire interrogation. But there was one problem. At the time of his interrogation, Y.F. was three years old.

Y.F.’s “testimony” was recorded on an official government document known as “Forms I-867 A/B Record of Sworn Statement” and written in a first-person, question-and-answer format, which made it seem like it was a “verbatim transcription of the interrogation,” the AILA brief charged.

However, AILA stated that written testimony recorded on Forms I-867 A/B “are not inherently reliable because they often contain fake responses, do not accurately reflect testimony presented, and were almost always created under coercive conditions.” AILA also claimed that Y.F.’s case wasn’t the first time that border agents filled out the testimony with errors on Forms I-867 A/B. But if respondents have an issue with the forms, it’s up to respondents to present evidence to the contrary.

A 2005 United States Commission on International Religious Freedom report found evidence that some CBP officers faked responses. Researchers found that in some cases, the questions required to screen for “credible fear” — such as, “Why did you leave your home country or country of last residence?” — were not actually asked, yet the paperwork “incorrectly indicated that the question had been asked and answered” in nearly 87 percent of the cases.

Since last summer, the Obama administration has adopted an aggressive deterrence strategy to lock up women and their children in detention under a “no release” policy as a way to deter future migrants from making the trek. Some people were released, but many were denied bond based on an April 2003 ruling in which former Attorney General John Ashcroft argued against granting bond to a Haitian immigrant because it would encourage future illegal entries.

Though many women and children currently in detention have favorable “credible fear” findings, many are still locked up in the three family detention centers located in Texas and Pennsylvania, often in jail-like conditions. About half a dozen women and children may soon be released from Karnes County Residential Center, a family detention center in Texas, in coming days.