The Trump administration said Friday it will begin arresting parents and others who hire smugglers to bring children into the U.S., in an effort to break up human-trafficking operations.
The new “surge initiative” by Immigration and Customs Enforcement marks the latest get-tough approach to immigration by the federal government since President Donald Trump took office.
It is also a sharp departure from policies in place under President Barack Obama, during which tens of thousands of young people crossed the border illegally. The children were then placed with sponsors—typically parents, close relatives or family friends—who cared for the minors while their cases moved through the immigration court system.
The government said it plans to arrest the sponsors.
“ICE aims to disrupt and dismantle end-to-end the illicit pathways used by transnational criminal organizations and human-smuggling facilitators,” agency spokeswoman Sarah Rodriguez said. “The sponsors who have placed children directly into harm’s way by entrusting them to violent criminal organizations will be held accountable.”
Immigrant advocacy groups said they were investigating a dozen arrests that may involve sponsors, including the arrest of an unaccompanied child’s brother in Texas, as well as other cases in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Immigration enforcement was a centerpiece of Mr. Trump’s presidential run, and he has sought to carry through on his campaign promises by cracking down on people in the country illegally. He has vowed to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and go after “sanctuary cities” that enact favorable policies toward immigrants, while emboldening ICE to arrest more people.
Since October 2013, nearly 170,000 unaccompanied minors have been placed with sponsors in all 50 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and many are still awaiting their day in court, according to federal data.