SANTA TERESA, N.M. (NewsNation Now) — Video released Wednesday by federal authorities show two Ecuadoran children being abandoned by smugglers after they were dropped over a 14-foot-high barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The toddler and her 5-year-old sister were unhurt, but officials with the U.S. Border Patrol called the incident appalling.
It comes as the Biden administration struggles with finding space to house the several hundred kids and teenagers who are crossing the border daily. As a result, holding facilities are packed, and the administration is scrambling to find more temporary housing options.
After pressure to bring more transparency to the process, the administration for the first time Tuesday allowed journalists inside its main border detention facility in Donna, Texas for migrant children, revealing a severely overcrowded tent structure where more than 4,000 people, including children and families, were crammed into a space intended for 250 and the youngest were kept in a large play pen with mats on the floor for sleeping.
Chief Patrol Agent Gloria I. Chavez in the El Paso sector, which includes parts of Texas and New Mexico, said an agent using a remote camera was able to spot a person straddling the barrier. The video shows the person lowering the children one at a time before letting them drop to the ground below. The children stood up as two people fled on the other side of the border.
“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,” Chavez said in a statement.
Authorities said Santa Teresa border agents were able to find the 3- and 5-year-old sisters after being directed by the camera operator to the remote location in New Mexico, just west of El Paso, Texas. The girls were alert but were taken to a hospital to be checked out and cleared. They currently remain at a Border Patrol temporary holding facility pending placement by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
While adults who try to cross the border are expelled under a coronavirus-related public health declaration enacted by former President Donald Trump, Biden has declined to resume the practice of expelling unaccompanied migrant children. Biden also has tried to expel most families traveling together, but changes in Mexican law have forced agents to release many parents and children into the U.S.
In some cases, parents refused entry into the U.S. have sent their children across the border alone, hoping they will be placed with relatives eventually.
The Border Patrol is apprehending far more children daily than Health and Human Services is placing with U.S. sponsors, leading to a severe backlog in the system. The Border Patrol generally is not supposed to detain children for more than three days, but Health and Human Services lacks space.
In an attempt to ease pressure on Border Patrol and badly overcrowded holding facilities many families are released without the proper notices leaving some migrants confused.
Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol, said it stopped issuing court notices in some cases, releasing migrant families on the border without notices to appear in immigration court or sometimes without any paperwork at all because preparing even one of the documents often takes hours. Migrants undergo background checks and are tested for COVID-19.
The agency didn’t answer questions about how many migrants have been released without court notices or without documents at all.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.