Two toddlers were rescued in a remote part of the New Mexico-Mexico border after they were dropped by someone atop a 14-foot-tall barrier Tuesday night, officials said.
The Border Patrol called it the work of human smugglers, and a sector chief called it appalling and vicious. The head of the Department of Homeland Security called the abuse of children by smugglers morally reprehensible.
The girls, 3 and 5, of Ecuador, were seen on camera being dropped over the border barrier west of Mt. Cristo Rey in New Mexico, near El Paso, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said.
They were found, taken to a hospital for an evaluation and medically cleared, the agency said.
Video posted online by El Paso Sector Chief Patrol Agent Gloria I. Chavez appears to show someone straddling the top of the border barrier and lowering and then dropping the children onto the U.S. side.
Two men on the Mexico side are then seen running away, leaving the children alone on the other side.
“I'm appalled by the way these smugglers viciously dropped innocent children from a 14-foot border barrier last night," Chavez said in a statement. She said if they had not been seen, the girls could have been left in the desert for hours.
"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.
The area of New Mexico where Wednesday's incident occurred is one of the busiest corridors for human smuggling on the U.S.-Mexico border, CBP spokesman Roger Maier said.
Officials have no doubt that it was human smuggling, he said. He said that families with children typically enter the U.S. as a group and surrender to Border Patrol agents.
The border barrier where it occurred is what was described as legacy fencing, and not new border wall.
Immigration officials have recorded a dramatic rise in encounters with unaccompanied children over the last month.
A Border Patrol official at an overcrowded facility in Donna, Texas, in the southeastern part of the state, said Tuesday that "the smugglers just drop them off" near the border, referring to children.
The two young children who were dropped into the U.S. over the border barrier were in Border Patrol temporary holding, pending placement by DHSS, the border agency said.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday condemned the inhumane abuse of young children by smugglers, referencing Tuesday's incident in New Mexico and others. Earlier this month, a 9-year-old died after three migrants tried to cross the Rio Grande River.
"The inhumane way smugglers abuse children while profiting off parents’ desperation is criminal and morally reprehensible," Mayorkas said.