The body of a 7-year-old girl believed to be from India was found in a remote desert area in Arizona this week, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Authorities said the unidentified girl was trying to cross into the United States with a group of people from her country. Her body was discovered 17 miles west of Lukeville, just over the U.S.-Mexico border.
The group was trying to get into the United States after human smugglers dropped them off near the Mexico border, the agency said in a statement Thursday. Temperatures in the rugged wilderness where agents found her remains Wednesday hovered around 108 degrees.
Border Patrol agents got the information on her movements from two women from India who told officials they’d been separated from a woman and two children traveling in their group hours earlier.
“Agents took the two women into custody and began searching the area north of the international border in remote terrain seven miles west of Quitobaquito Springs,” the agency said in a statement. “Within hours, they discovered the little girl’s remains.”
Agents used helicopters to search for the people she’d been traveling with, and found footprints indicating they returned to Mexico.
“The agency earlier said that criminal organizations often abandon illegal immigrants in the desert. As a result, many perish along the border every year. It encourages anyone in distress to call 911 or activate a rescue beacon before they become a casualty,” My Nation reported.
The body of a seven-year-old girl, believed to be Indian, was found near a remote and deserted US-Mexico border areahttps://t.co/zOjuZCzCY8
— MyNation (@MyNation) June 14, 2019
“Our sympathies are with this little girl and her family,” Tucson Chief Patrol Agent Roy Villareal said. “This is a senseless death driven by cartels who are profiting from putting lives at risk.”
Customs and Border Protection agents along with Mexican authorities are searching both sides of the border for anyone associated with the group.
The numbers of Indians crossing U.S. borders has steadily risen in recent years. Last year, more than 9,000 people from India were detained at U.S. borders nationwide—a big increase from the prior year, when that number was about 3,100.
A decade ago, in 2009, that number was 204.
Human-Smuggling Organizations and Cartels
Human-smuggling organizations and the Mexican cartels maintain a symbiotic relationship, according to Janice Ayala, director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Joint Task Force for Investigations (JTF-I).
“Certain members of these criminal enterprises feed the major U.S. and foreign drug markets, and others control the smuggling flow across certain geographic areas of the border on behalf of their cartel,” Ayala said at a Senate hearing on Dec. 12.
“Most human smugglers are required to pay taxes and fees to cartels for access to smuggling routes through specific geographic areas and are subject to physical violence and/or death if proper coordination and compensation are not rendered.”
Often, Central American migrants pay a smuggler up to $7,000 for passage to the U.S. border and are coached on how to pass the credible-fear screening. Usually, once across the border, the family units and unaccompanied minors seek out Border Patrol and claim asylum.
However, this ties up field agents with processing and transporting asylum-seekers, which the cartels take advantage of to move high-value contraband into the United States.
“The smugglers are choosing the timing and locations for these crossings strategically in order to disrupt our border security efforts, create a diversion for smuggling of narcotics, and allow single adults seeking to evade capture to sneak in,” McAleenan said.
In November, Trump tried to temporarily stop this exploitation by deeming illegal border crossers ineligible for asylum. By funneling asylum-seekers through ports of entry, more Border Patrol agents remain in the field. The president issued the emergency proclamation on Nov. 9, but it was blocked by a Californian judge on Nov. 20.
McAleenan estimated the human-smuggling business is worth $2.5 billion per year in Mexico.
“I think the [cartels] are making a tremendous profit off the backs of very vulnerable people right now,” he said. “Even worse, these smugglers visit horrible violence, sexual assault, and extortion on some of the most vulnerable people in our hemisphere.”
Smugglers advertise the best ways to exploit U.S. immigration law and “crossing with a child is a near guarantee of a speedy release,” McAleenan said.
Earlier this year, a man who entered the United States with a girl he claimed was his daughter was arrested and charged with multiple felony offenses for rape, oral copulation, forcible sexual penetration, and endangering/causing injury to a child.
“We identified over 600 families that had fraudulent claims essentially last year, where the adults and child weren’t related,” McAleenan said.
Smugglers are pairing up unrelated adults and children because, together, they can’t be held longer than 20 days due to the 1997 Clinton-era Flores Settlement Agreement, which was tightened even further during the Obama era.
Initially, in 2014 during the first family unit surge, then-Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was able to detain families together and begin removing them, which created a huge deterrent and numbers dropped off, McAleenan said.
But, in 2015, a district court in California amended Flores in a ruling that put a 20-day maximum on detention for all children.
It is impossible to adjudicate an asylum claim in fewer than 20 days, which means the claimants are released into the United States, with a court date often years down the road.
“So, as a result, we’ve seen family unit numbers climb, really unabated but for the inauguration of President Trump in January 2017,” McAleenan said.
The United States is also unable to turn Central American children (or those from any other non-contiguous nation) back into Mexico under the 2008 William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). Ninety-five percent of unaccompanied minors are from El Salvador, Honduras, or Guatemala.
“These weaknesses in our laws now represent the most significant factors impacting border security,” McAleenan said. “This is clearly both a border security and a humanitarian crisis.”
The administration wants Congress to amend the TVPRA so that minors who aren’t genuine trafficking victims can be returned home or removed to safe third countries. Trump also wants Congress to terminate Flores and fold its standards of care into the TVPRA.
The CNN Wire and Epoch Times reporter Charlotte Cuthbertson contributed to this article.