EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A border congresswoman is calling for accountability from U.S. partners after watching a stunning video of smugglers dropping two toddlers over the border wall west of El Paso, then running away leaving them in the desert.
The two Ecuadorian girls ages 3 and 5 were rescued by U.S. Border Patrol agents at the base of Mount Cristo Rey in Sunland Park, New Mexico and taken to a hospital for medical evaluation. They have been cleared and taken to a temporary processing facility. Mexican police haven’t announced any arrests.
“I haven’t been able to stop thinking about those two girls but also all of the kids that I met all this time,” U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, said on Thursday. “It’s truly heartbreaking but it’s demonstrative of … the desperation families feel about life and death choices for their kids.”
She said the lack of legal pathways for families to migrate into the United States or for children to be reunited with family members already here prompts immigrants to take dangerous clandestine routes. She also called for more accountability from America’s “partners and neighbors” who allow criminal organizations to prey on migrants.
“I’ve learned about the connection between the cartels and the smuggling organizations and how sophisticated they have become just on the other side of our border, throughout Mexico and into the Northern Triangle,” Escobar said. “I had a conversation with Vice President Kamala Harris about how that needs to be part of our diplomatic efforts with our neighbors. … As we make investments in our neighbors to create stability, there also needs to be accountability.”
She said smuggling organizations have operated for a long time but have expanded their activities and have “thrived” in the past four years.
Escobar spoke at one of the entrance gates to Fort Bliss, Texas, where earlier on Thursday she toured a new emergency intake center run by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Boys at HHS facility in Fort Bliss “well taken care of”
Echoing statements made earlier this week, the El Paso congresswoman said unaccompanied minors being held at this and other facilities along the border are “in much better conditions” compared to how children were held in 2018 and 2019.
“When I toured Central Processing Station, kids were sleeping on the floor on thin mats, which is a step up from what I saw in 2019, which was kids sleeping on the rocks outside under bridges Downtown. At least they’re indoors, at least they’re on mats. This is much better,” she said.
The HHS facility in Fort Bliss will be able to hold up to 5,000 boys ages 13 to 17. Escobar said she didn’t know how many children have arrived in El Paso and are being held at Fort Bliss.
“They are slowly building up to that capacity. I don’t know how many were in custody today (because) they’re building up the site as the kids are arriving,” she said.
The number of unaccompanied minors rose substantially in February and is projected to increase again when March numbers are tallied. Republicans blame the surge on the Biden administration creating expectations abroad about holding the door open to migrants. Democrats say Trump suppressed legal migration and people had no choice but to try to get across any way they could.
Escobar says almost half the children (45%) in HHS custody came to join a parent. Almost an equal number of minors have an uncle, a grandparent or another relative in the U.S. willing to sponsor them.
“I asked HHS what percentage doesn’t have a family member — how many kids coming have no one — and it’s a very small percentage, less than 15%,” she said.
She said she talked to two teenage boys from Honduras on Thursday who told her their homes were devastated by hurricanes Eta and Iota last year and their families have nothing left.
“I asked why ‘are you’re here?’ And they said, ‘I want to go to school, I want to learn English, I want to work. One of them he doesn’t have parents anymore and wants to send money back to his grandmother. He said, ‘I want to send money back to take care of her the way she took care of me,” Escobar said. “They’re really heart-wrenching, gut-wrenching stories of survival and love of family.”