Holidays a boom time for child smuggling across U.S.-Mexican border

An increasing number of smuggling suspects have been arrested trying to bring children from Mexico, an annual problem as &to=' target=_blank>illegal immigrants working in the U.S. arrange to have their kids shipped north for holiday reunions.

Officials don't keep border-wide statistics on such arrests, but David Moreno, immigration chief for Customs and Border Protection for the two bridges from Hidalgo to Reynosa, Mexico, said there were attempts to smuggle nine children there in late November alone.

"That's natural, to try to be united," he said. "Unfortunately for the children, they're putting them in danger when they're being smuggled and that's what we're trying to deter. We have real small children, infants, being smuggled in."

Illegal immigrants who miss their children this time of year ask friends or smugglers to bring them across by passing them off as their own children or U.S. citizens, said Rick Pauza, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman in Laredo.

That was the case in a handful of recent arrests at the Hidalgo bridge in deep South Texas.

In late November, 41-year-old Maria Guadalupe Rodriguez of Pharr was arrested on smuggling charges after telling agents that a 10-month-old baby was hers.

Days before, 45-year-old Lilia Pineda of Richmond, Texas, was arrested after producing false U.S. birth certificates for children ages 8 and 13 who she claimed were grandchildren. The children were Honduran, and the birth certificates belonged to her real grandchild and another child.

And not long after, 31-year-old Victoria Lyn Sanchez of Houston drove across the same bridge with two girls, 11 and 12, that she said were her nieces. They turned out to be unrelated Mexican citizens.

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