At the beginning of the year, there was a government shutdown over the border crisis. Trump demanded funding for border security and closing the policy loopholes fueling the crisis. Instead, he agreed to sign a bill in February that added a new loophole. Not only did we erroneously continue treating self-trafficked Central American teens as refugee “unaccompanied alien children” (UACs), but Democrats slipped in a provision protecting those who sponsor them, aka commit the criminal conspiracy of trafficking, from deportation.
As I warned at the time, it’s truly hard to overstate the danger of this provision. As the current acting Customs and Border Protection (CBP) director, Mark Morgan, warned, it’s precisely these self-trafficked Central American teens, “hardened young men as well as vulnerable and lost youth,” who are the most likely to join MS-13. We see stories every day of the resurgence of the gang thanks to this recruitment.
At a time when this flow needs to be shut off, our government is inviting existing illegal aliens to sponsor new ones by dangling an amnesty in front of them.
Jessica Vaughan, who has monitored this issue closely for the Center for Immigration Studies and has testified before Congress on the effects of UACs on gang activity, told me that it’s essential this provision is fixed.
“This has created a toll-free superhighway for MS-13, 18th Street, and other gangs to move new foot soldiers in to boost gang activity (and revenue) in many of its existing strongholds, like northern Virginia, Maryland, Long Island, Boston, and Texas, but also plenty of other regions — even Iowa and Tennessee,” said Vaughan in an interview with CR. “ICE has estimated that about 40 percent of the MS-13 members they’ve arrested in recent years originally arrived as UACs. These delinquents are literally terrorizing communities and killing other kids, but instead of empowering ICE to arrest and remove more of them, Congress (with GOP consent) has made it harder for ICE by blocking access to information on the minors’ sponsors.”
According to data from the Senate Homeland Security Committee, fewer than 10 percent of those sponsoring the Central American teens resettled under the UAC program have full legal status themselves. That means this provision from the February omnibus is inviting the existing illegal alien population to get amnesty in exchange for flooding our country with violent or vulnerable illegal alien youth.
The latest example is the arrest of an 18-year-old Honduran, who was settled as a UAC in 2014, for kidnapping and assaulting a high school kid for not joining MS-13 in sanctuary Davidson County, Tennessee. Franklin Pineda-Caceres was arrested on Sunday in Nashville following a car wreck where he almost killed others in a police chase. He is accused of getting two others to join him in kidnapping and beating a Glencliff High School boy for not agreeing to join the gang.
I’m told by a senior DHS official that Pineda-Caceres was brought in as an unaccompanied minor in 2014.
Pineda-Caceres is a textbook case of why the drug and gang crises took off precisely in 2014 with the arrival of mainly young males from Central America. As soon as he came in, he engaged in drug trafficking and was deported in 2018. Now federal prosecutors are charging him with illegal re-entry in addition to the aggravated kidnapping. He was also caught with large quantities of cocaine and is being charged on numerous drug counts as well as reckless endangerment, assault with a deadly weapon, and evading arrest. Increasingly, the transnational gangs have been the distribution-level traffickers of drugs for the cartels, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Thus, bringing in an endless supply of young male MS-13 recruits also aggravates the drug crisis.
This case also demonstrates the allure of sanctuary jurisdictions like Davidson County. If they actually followed the law to ensure illegal aliens aren’t shielded from detection, these criminals wouldn’t feel confidence in returning to commit other crimes.
In July, local Nashville officials cheered on a group of anarchists who helped an illegal alien with a criminal record thwart an apprehension by peddling this dangerous lie that ICE needs a criminal warrant to apprehend a removable alien. One illegal alien, Jose Fernando Andrade-Sanchez, earlier this month refused to get out of his car and then drove toward agents, which led to them shoot him. The agents’ names were dragged through the mud in local media as if they were the criminals, but the reality is that Andrade-Sanchez had a massive criminal record and was previously removed four times.
According to federal prosecutors who argued Tuesday against releasing him on pretrial bond, Andrade-Sanchez was arrested on June 15, 2009, for assaulting his girlfriend and hitting her three-year-old girl, “causing the child’s face to bleed profusely.” He was later deported and came back to commit more crimes. Yet he almost got away because local officials continue to delegitimize immigration law. Perhaps if Nashville treated the criminals as criminals rather than ICE agents as criminals, people like this wouldn’t keep coming back.
But the Trump administration must work to end this insane loophole for MS-13 recruiting at the federal level. Thus far, the administration has worked to end many of the other loopholes, such as family unit catch-and-release and bogus asylum claims. But the UAC loophole has not been closed and was exacerbated and compounded in February with the amnesty offer for those who traffic them. In addition to picking a budget fight on sanctuary cities, Trump needs to end this sanctuary nation policy for this group of traffickers who are helping recruitment for MS-13.
As Jessica Vaughan told CR, “In the past, one of the ways ICE could take care of youth gang problems was to remove the whole family.” She noted that while not all family members are involved in gangs and crime, many of them are, “but if they are here illegally, they should all be removed anyway” because it “denies the gang members a support system here and lessens the chance that they will return.”
Trump promised to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it, but unless this provision is removed in the budget bill, the MS-13 recruitment superhighway will continue to be built – with American victims paying for it with money and blood.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.