Two girls, aged three and five, were dropped over the US-Mexico border wall by smugglers in the middle of the night, the American authorities have said.
Releasing infrared video of the incident in an appeal to catch the people smugglers, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency said the two Ecuadoran toddlers were hoisted up to the top of the 14ft border wall and then dropped over the other side.
After locating the girls on Tuesday evening, CBP officers at Santa Teresa in New Mexico took them for a medical evaluation and then to a hospital. The girls are still in CBP custody.
Gloria I Chavez, the chief patrol agent at the time, said in a statement: “I’m appalled by the way these smugglers viciously dropped innocent children from a 14-foot border barrier last night.” She said that US officials are working with the Mexican authorities to identify those responsible for the act.
Ms Chavez said: “If not for the vigilance of our agents using mobile technology, these two tender-aged siblings would have been exposed to the harsh elements of the desert environment for hours.”
The toddlers were dropped and then abandoned just west of Mount Cristo Rey, where a border patrol camera operator spotted the smugglers using infrared camera technology. The agency made the 29-second video public the next day, warning that some viewers may find the footage “disturbing”.
Local media reports said that the two toddlers were alert when the CBP agents located them. Ms Chavez, of Border Patrol’s El Paso sector — which includes parts of Texas and New Mexico — said: “We are currently working with our law enforcement partners in Mexico and attempting to identify these ruthless human smugglers so as to hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
Speaking with the website Border Report, Oscar Misael Hernandez, an expert investigator at Mexico’s Northern Border College said: “The smuggler men that dropped and abandoned the two minor girls in the desert toppling them off the wall near the Sunland Park, New Mexico shows that the Mexican smugglers have started to look at the migrant women and children as merchandise.” He said drug cartels are now directly getting involved in human smuggling and “especially the exploitation of minor girls and kids”.
Victor M Manjarrez, a former US border patrol chief in El Paso and Tucson, Arizona said that he had witnessed children being smuggled for prices as much as $5,000 and $6,000. “It is a lucrative business,” he told reporters.
The US Department of Health and Human Services had 12,918 migrant children in their care as of Tuesday, while CBP was responsible for the care of another 5,285. On average, there are at least 500 unaccompanied children crossing the border every day.
The Biden administration has come in for criticism recently over its management of the detention centres. On Tuesday, for the first time journalists were allowed inside the main border detention facility for migrant children. An Associated Press report described the facility as a “severely overcrowded tent structure” with more than 4,000 people, including children and families, crammed into a “space intended for 250”. The youngest were kept in a large playpen where they slept on the floor.