EL PASO, Texas -- Although the number of migrants trying to gain entry into the U.S. are dropping, those numbers remain at an all-time high.
Even more concerning is the number of unaccompanied children encountered at the Mexico border by U.S. Border Patrol agents.
In the El Paso sector alone, 23,000 unaccompanied children were encountered or apprehended.
But even more troubling is the number of adults posing as children.
The reason? Preferential treatment.
Although rare, an adult posing as an adult can have deadly consequences, like one Florida family found out last month.
"Within the Border Patrol there's a regality that, we don't always catch 100% of everything," said Agent Joel Freeland of the El Paso sector.
Yery Medina Ulloa came to the U.S. in October and told agents he was 17-years old, but he was actually 24.
Freeland said adults posing as unaccompanied children is a growing trend as transnational criminal organizations tell adult migrants to lie.
"They'll encourage and tell people who are crossing to pretend to be unaccompanied children. And some of these people do that on their own volition, and they choose to act like they're an unaccompanied child," Freeland tells ABC-7.
In fiscal year 2021, agents encountered as many as 559 adults posing as unaccompanied children. And in fiscal year 2022, which started in October, agents have already encountered 55 adults trying to pose as children.
Some are obvious, others are not.
"We've had instances of people who are 30-years old who are pretending to be unaccompanied children," said Freeland.
The reason is simple, the vast majority of adults are sent back to Mexico under title 42, a health order to try to keep Covid-19 out of the U.S - but unaccompanied children stay in the country for processing.
"So unaccompanied children are on a different pathway. They're gonna go to the Health and Human Services office of refugee resettlement," explained Freeland.
Unaccompanied children eventually go to a shelter, which was the case with Ulloa.
He went to a shelter last year, then was sponsored by a family in Jacksonville, Florida, last November.
The Jacksonville County Sheriff's Office is now accusing him of murdering his sponsor.
Freeland said that border agents question an unaccompanied minor the moment they encounter them at the border, asking the minor's country of origin and then the age.
Customs and Border Protection works with the Homeland Security investigations unit to try to determine the migrant's actual age if they suspect the migrant is lying.
"Where it ultimately ends up going is to possible prosecution. So the United States Attorney's office works with the Border Patrol. We prosecute them under 18USC1001 for making false statements to a federal officer," Freeland said, adding that penalties for lying to a federal officer vary from fines to up to five years behind bars.