Representative Lance Gooden (R-TX-05) filed the “End Child Trafficking Now Act” today in a bid to curb child trafficking at the U.S. border. The bill would require border agents to administer DNA tests to confirm that children are related to the adult accompanying them.
This is designed to address what is known as “child recycling” — the practice of sending minors with adult aliens seeking asylum and then sending the child back across the border to be used again.
This arises because immigration policy limits the time allowed for holding family units for a maximum of 20 days. After that, they are released and must appear for their court date to adjudicate their status.
Gooden told The Texan his motivation for this bill began after observing the realities of the escalating border crisis.
“In the last six months we’ve seen a back and forth about the horrors at the border and one of those horrors that stood out to me was the child recycling which seemed especially appalling.”
“This bill sends a message to traffickers that children are not to be used as auction items and pawns in their trafficking schemes,” Gooden said.
Gooden added, “If you know as a child trafficker that your previous practice of using children to get people across the border for profit is no longer an option because of the DNA testing, then you’re not going to continue that activity.”
The bill would implement DNA testing for all asylum petitioners who claim a family connection in America. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) already tested the practice in a pilot program and found that almost one in five familial claims were falsified.
ICE Executive Associate Director Derek Benner said of the trial run, “It is clear on-site DNA testing has a strong deterrent effect, as HSI (Homeland Security Investigations) agents witnessed multiple instances of individuals confessing to faux families prior to being tested as well.”
From mid-April to mid-June, ICE says it “identified approximately 275 fraudulent families, uncovered 735 fraudulent documents or claims, and presented 553 individuals for prosecution to the Department of Justice.”
Border apprehensions in this fiscal year are still far outpacing the previous one.
June apprehension numbers stayed above 100,000 for the fourth consecutive month.
DHS Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan testified in Congress last week, describing how drug cartels are using children to take advantage of the loopholes in asylum law. He described a specific instance wherein an individual “paid $80 for a 6-month-old infant in Guatemala,” and only admitted the child was not his after being confronted with a DNA test.
Gooden also referenced this story as one which particularly pushed him towards introducing this bill.
Gooden’s bill states that an alien with a minor may be admitted for adjudication if they meet one of three criteria: presents documents proving familial relation, presents a witness to testify of the relation, or a DNA test is passed proving the biological relationship to the child.
The DNA test is permitted to be used “only in the case that the Secretary of Homeland Security is unable to determine, based on the evidence presented [in the first two options above] that the alien is a relative or guardian of the minor accompanying the alien.”
If the individual claiming asylum cannot prove the child is related and refuses a DNA test, the individual will be denied entry. Upon denial, the minor will be treated as an unaccompanied alien child and placed in a detention or similarly purposed facility.
The bill establishes a maximum 10-year prison sentence and/or fines for falsifying an accompanied minor asylum claim.
“We want a discussion and to have input from both sides of the aisle,” Gooden said.
He added, “I can’t imagine a member of Congress, regardless of party, being against an effort that is well-intentioned and nonpartisan to end child trafficking.”
In what could be a possible objection to Gooden’s proposal, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) stated in a hearing of the House Oversight Committee earlier this month that familial conceptions of the Hispanic countries from which the aliens are coming differ from America’s conception of family.
When asked about this, Gooden responded, “The bill leaves discretion to border patrol to make judgments on scenarios that might fit this concern.”
“If we get to the point that there is no documentation but the child says the person they’re with is who has cared for them for a while, then border patrol will go into an interview process and make a determination,” Gooden added.
Gooden then stressed that this is not a common occurrence and is far outweighed by legitimate families or trafficked children. “But we have ensured that those non-traditional situations Ms. Ocasio-Cortez mentioned are accounted for,” he concluded.
When asked what the State of Texas can do to help in conjunction with this bill should it pass, Gooden stated: “Texas has already done so much and the federal government has dropped the ball.” He added, “It would be unreasonable to ask the state to do more than it already has. It’s time for the federal government to step up.”
Gooden concluded by saying, “We hope this bill can be that moment where Republicans and Democrats come together on an issue that we agree children should not be trafficked and used as a commodity across the border.”
Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.