Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said on Monday that some "well-coached" people illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border are using children to pose as families to gain entry.
"From October 2017 to this February, we have seen a staggering 315 per cent increase in illegal aliens fraudulently using children to pose as family units to gain entry into the country," she told the annual National Association of Sheriffs meeting in New Orleans, the Daily Mail reports. "This must stop. All this does is put the children at risk."
"We do not have the luxury of pretending that all individuals coming to this country as a family unit are in fact a family," Neilsen added. "We have to do our job. We will not apologize for doing our job."
Neilsen said Monday that the children often represent a well-publicized "get-out-of-jail-free-card" that the Trump administration stopped handing out with the adoption of a zero-tolerance policy two months ago.
She also said America's low bar for establishing asylum-seekers' "credible fear" of persecution or physical harm in their home countries.
"As a result, over the last seven years we've seen the number of individuals claiming asylum skyrocket," she said.
And "we've asked Congress to adjust the standard of proof to prevent well-coached applicants from uttering the magic words indicating a fear of returning home."
Nielsen also said, "You do not need to break the law of this country by entering illegally to claim asylum. If you are seeking asylum go to a port of entry."
"We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period," she said.
"This misreporting by Members, press & advocacy groups must stop. It is irresponsible and unproductive. As I have said many times before, if you are seeking asylum for your family, there is no reason to break the law and illegally cross between ports of entry," Nielsen said on Twitter.
In the last six weeks, some 2,000 children have been separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border as part of a "zero tolerance" policy that cracks down on illegal aliens crossing into the United States, the Associated Press reports.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April enacted new border-enforcement policies, declaring that the Department of Justice would arrest and prosecute all adults illegally crossing the U.S-Mexico border. When adults enter with children, they are often separated.