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Grothman On Unaccompanied Minors

This week, at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing, Congressman Glenn Grothman (R-Glenbeulah) questioned acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan about the state of unaccompanied minors at the border, the hardships they face getting to the border and the possibility of being kidnapped and sold by the cartels. Rep. Grothman referred to his two recent trips to our Southern border, Arizona and Texas, while asking the acting Secretary tough questions.

Key takeaway 1: McAleenan confirmed that it is border patrol’s duty to make sure children are reunited with their parents.

Key Takeaway 2: Cartels in Mexico advertise that bringing children to the U.S. border increases your chances on staying in America, even if the child is not your own. They will go as far as kidnapping children in order to sell or rent them to illegal border crossers.

Witnesses Included:

  • The Honorable Kevin K. McAleenan, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security

Excerpts of Grothman’s questioning

Congressman Glenn Grothman: “Thank you very much. First of all, Mr. McAleenan, I’d like to thank you for being here today. It’s unfortunate it’s a flyout day, and, as you can see, a lot of Congressmen are missing your fine testimony. I would love it if sometime in the future we could have you come here again because five minutes really isn’t enough to ask you the questions we have, and, unfortunately, too many people aren’t here. I’ve been at the border twice myself. I think you guys are doing a tremendous job. I couldn’t help but be impressed by the professionalism that your staff showed and the high morale they had, despite some people saying there wasn’t a crisis at the border, and I know your people have done all they can to educate the public there is a crisis at the border. Now one of the things that intrigues me is sometimes children are coming here with people who are not their parents, and I compare it to how we treat children in American society, you know, if one parent tries to grab the child away from other parents we have court hearings, we have all sorts of hoopla. I think we would never stand for an aunt or uncle grabbing a child away when the parents are far away. Could you elaborate a little bit on the concern of children being here who somebody purports to say is their parent but turns out isn’t a parent or relative, is this a concern?”

The Honorable Kevin McAleenan: “It’s a concern, obviously, for the safety and welfare of the child to make sure they’re with a parent or guardian, but it’s also the legal requirement under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. That’s an essential inquiry that our agents are making at the border to try to determine that the adult crossing purporting to have a child with them is the actual parent or guardian, and, unfortunately, we’re finding in too many cases that’s not the case.”

Grothman: “How do you find out?”

McAleenan: “So, a couple different ways. One, our border patrol agents, when they have the time and space to do good interviews and questioning, often determine either through the answers, through the presentation of the documents that there might be fraudulent birth certificates involved, or the behavior of the child looking uncomfortable with that adult. We’ve now expanded this practice with 400 special agents from HSI, alongside our border patrol agents doing more in-depth interviews. They’ve done about 2,500 so far and found out that almost 15 percent of those cases, they were actually presenting a fraudulent family.”

Grothman: “That’s shocking. Do the cartels, who are just the epitome of evil, do they do anything to encourage this sort of behavior?”

McAleenan: “Absolutely. They’ve been active in advertising literally on Facebook and in the radio in Central America that, if you bring a child with you, you’re going to be released in the U.S., and there’s a whole fake document operation really in all three countries. We’ve identified 900 fake documents in just the first eight weeks of Homeland Security investigations doing this in-depth interview.”

Grothman: “When children come here are they purchased or kidnapped?”

McAleenan: “We’ve seen all of the above. We’ve seen rentals, purchase, kidnap, delivery to a relative or parent in the U.S., and outright human trafficking.”

Grothman: “You said sometimes you do DNA testing, is that right?”

McAleenan: “We started a pilot earlier in my tenure, the first few weeks of my tenure, where we did about 109 DNA tests at the border. Again, a 15 percent return rate on either people admitting that’s not my child, including a 51-year-old who bought a 6-month-old for $80 in Guatemala, and it’s a real concern. We want to expand our DNA testing coverage with the new rapid DNA technologies that are coming out.”

Grothman: “Ok, one other concern which is, I think maybe, a difficult thing for you to worry about, though I was concerned about it when I heard testimony, previous testimony. In America, we go through a great deal to make sure that something doesn’t happen to a child if one parent would object, and it occurs to me that if somebody shows up, even if it is their child, do we know if the other parent is there, whether that parent is agreeing to allow this child to be brought in the United States, or if a child shows up and is eventually given to somebody who purports to be their aunt or uncle which is, I understand, what is going on. Do we have any legal way of knowing this is right, or for all we know we may have a situation in which one parent is absconding with a child without the other parent knowing?”

McAleenan: “So, we do have concerns that that could be happening, and they’re even heightened more gravely when we have an unaccompanied child who’s coming to the border, often had a smuggler paid by a parent who’s here in the United States. I don’t think most people realize that most of these unaccompanied children are being released to parents or relatives in the U.S. who are also here unlawfully who may not have permission to work in the United states and yet, these children are being released to sponsors in the U.S. under the operation of law and restrictions being in place by Congress in the current appropriations and supplemental.”

Grothman: “And the default is to allow them in the country even though maybe another parent somewhere else would have wanted that child to stay with them?”

McAleenan: “Correct, and we’ve had all three ambassadors from the Northern Triangle countries assert that those governments should have some say in what happens to that unaccompanied child.”

Grothman: “Oh absolutely. I mean if they’re ignoring the wishes of the courts in Central America, I mean that’s just appalling. Well, I’d like to thank you for being here again. I intend to go back to the border, to go back to El Paso in a couple weeks and talk to your folks again, and I encourage my colleagues to go down to the border and see what a fine job you’re doing, despite be underfunded by Congress.”

McAleenan: “You’ll see a dramatic improvement in the situation in El Paso from 5,000 in custody to 500 today.”

Click here to view Grothman’s remarks.


U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman is serving his third term representing Wisconsin’s 6th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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