EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — What kind of person drops a toddler over a 14-foot wall and walks away, abandoning the child in the desert?
That’s the question many are asking after a U.S. Border Patrol camera caught two men dropping a toddler girl and her 5-year-old sister over the wall near Sunland Park, New Mexico. The video taken Tuesday shows the girls’ legs buckling as they hit the ground and two smugglers running away up a mountain known to be used by Mexican smugglers.
A Border Patrol camera operator witnessed the act and directed agents from the Santa Teresa, New Mexico, station to the scene. The agents located the girls, ages 3 and 5, rendered aid and took them to a hospital for medical evaluation.
Experts like Oscar Misael Hernandez, an investigator at Mexico’s Northern Border College, have told Border Report that smugglers have stopped looking at migrants — men, women and children — as people and now view them as merchandise.
Groups like the drug cartels that were previously content to charge a “pass-through” tax are now directly getting involved in human smuggling. These are men and women with no moral qualms usually tasked with smuggling drugs or taking out rivals.
“There’s great exploitation going on with these kids. It’s such a lucrative business with prices going up so fast nowadays that groups that traditionally don’t get involved are now involved in human smuggling,” said Victor M. Manjarrez, a former U.S. Border Patrol sector chief in El Paso and Tucson, Arizona.
Central Americans that used to pay between $5,000 and $6,000 to be smuggled through Mexico and up to the U.S. border are now paying $8,000 or more, Manjarrez said. South Americans, especially minors, mean payouts upward of $12,000 to smuggling organizations.
“Children are on a different scale right now. The numbers just shot up and the bottom line is going up as the risks are going down for the smugglers. They are no longer trying to help (the migrants) evade arrest, they want them to be caught, to surrender to an agent to be transported legally” to relatives in the United States, said Manjarrez, associate director of the National Center for Border Security and Immigration at the University of Texas at El Paso.
The smugglers are taping the names and contact information of children’s relatives on the children’s clothing. In Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, groups are placing “laminated placards” around the necks of children with their relatives’ contact information, he said.
The Ecuadorian girls who were dropped over the border wall on Tuesday were cleared to leave the hospital and placed in temporary Border Patrol custody pending placement by the Department of Health and Human Services.
The men who dropped the girls over the wall haven’t been identified or caught, but Border Patrol Sector Chief Gloria Chavez characterized the act as “appalling” and said she’s working with Mexican authorities to “hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
Earlier this week, a Border Report crew visited the Juarez neighborhood of Anapra on the other side of Mount Cristo Rey and saw men who appeared to be lookouts near the top of the mountain.
The area near the mountain is among the busiest in terms of smuggling activity in the El Paso Sector, according to the Border Patrol.