Attempts to Dupe Immigration Agents on the Rise

Instead of trusting human smugglers or risking clandestine border crossings, an increasing number of people trying to enter the U.S. illegally are taking a more brazen approach. They try to slip through legal entry points using fake papers, or documents that belong to someone else. 

International Bridge 1, for passenger vehicles and pedestrians, in Laredo. International Bridge 1, for passenger vehicles and pedestrians, in Laredo.

International Bridge 1, for passenger vehicles and pedestrians, in Laredo. Spencer Selvidge

EL PASO — Hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants gamble their fate with human smugglers or deadly rides atop freight trains to enter Texas. Tens of thousands of others instead try a more brazen approach: handing fake documents to federal agents at ports of entry.

The number of people turned away or detained at Texas ports  — what the Department of Homeland Security calls “inadmissibles” — increased by about 25 percent during the government’s 2014 fiscal year, according to statistics. Most were denied entry after presenting false or stolen documents.

Customs and Border Protection agents working the Laredo field office, which includes the ports from Del Rio to Brownsville, found about 39,000 would-be crossers inadmissible, up from about 31,800 during the 2013 fiscal year. The El Paso field office, which extends from the Big Bend area to El Paso and through New Mexico, reported about 10,170 inadmissibles, up from the previous year’s 7,855.

Illegal crossers caught between the ports of entry have a slight chance at staying in the country by claiming asylum. But those caught presenting false documents, or trying to use someone else's, at a port might never be able to gain legal access to the country, even through marriage or sponsorship, said Dan Kowalski, an immigration attorney and editor of Bender’s Immigration Bulletin, an immigration newsletter.  

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“You could almost say it’s a permanent bar,” he said.

A person banned for presenting false papers must acquire a waiver for readmission into the country, which Kowalski said is an uphill battle.

When apprehensions of immigrants sneaking across the border drop, CBP officials often claim that indicates fewer people are attempting illegal entry. But immigration officials said the inverse — that the increase in inadmissibles reflects more people faking their way through — isn't necessarily true. It means that CBP officers are getting better at detecting false documents, they say.

“We’re just doing a better job; they just get better at what they do,” said Frank Longoria, the Laredo field office’s acting assistant director for field operations. “That’s the way we would like to look at it.”

Changes to passports and other visas are also helping. 

“With the new technology and biometrics, we are seeing fewer counterfeits, but there are still lots of people trying to be impostors,” said Roger Maier, a CBP spokesman in El Paso. “A lot of it comes down to officer expertise and training. They are trained on what to look for regarding certain facial features that are consistent throughout your life.”

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The increase in attempts to fool trained customs agents could be a result of increased manpower on the country’s southern border that has made it harder for people to sneak across the Rio Grande. Since 2001, the number of Border Patrol agents on the southwest border has doubled to about 18,100. Over the summer, state officials deployed hundreds of Texas Department of Public Safety officers and Texas National Guard units in response to the massive influx of undocumented immigrants from Central America.

Kowalski said the buildup could be a reason for the increase at the ports, but he also said the statistics should be viewed with some skepticism.

“It’s also possible that it’s due to differences in record keeping,” Kowalski said. “Before a certain date, the agents in the field didn’t keep very detailed records or mark everything down, so the numbers appeared to be low even though they came across a lot of people. We’ll never know. I don’t trust CBP’s numbers about anything.”

For years, the Obama administration has been accused of inflating statistics to appear tough on illegal immigration. In October, the administration touted another record-breaking total for deportations, saying more than 438,000 people were deported in 2013. Numbers USA, a grassroots organization that advocates for limits on immigration levels, said in 2013 that the administration had inflated deportation statistics by more than 100,000 by “counting certain ‘returns’ as ‘removals’ in order to artificially inflate the numbers and create a 'record level' of deportations.”

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