WASHINGTON, DC — The disturbing video of two young children being dumped over the border wall in the southern New Mexico desert near Santa Teresa is officially making its way around the White House.
“I’ve seen the video, and I think any of us who saw the video were incredibly alarmed by the steps of smugglers, ones that we have been quite familiar with, that we’ve spoken out about our concerns about,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at Thursday’s White House daily press briefing.
U.S. Border Patrol agents rescued the two young Ecuadorian sisters after alleged human smugglers dropped them over a 14-foot-tall border fence earlier this week.
Video from a Border Patrol camera, shows the children, aged 3 and 5, being dropped on the U.S. side of the barrier.
U.S. officials are scrambling to deal with an influx of migrants into the country and a Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman said that more than 300 agents are being deployed along the border with Mexico. This includes some agents that were moved earlier this year.
Psaki was asked Thursday whether the White House would be considering additional efforts aimed at “beefing up” border security following the incident, but Psaki stuck to her usual talking points discouraging migration, attempting to convince parents not to let their children be transported across the border by smugglers.
“Our focus is on sending a clear message to smugglers — to the region, that this is not the time to come, you should not send your kids on this treacherous journey, that these smugglers are praying on vulnerabilities in these communities. There’s a lot of issues and steps we need to take to address root causes. So, of course our concern is for the safety of these kids. These Border Patrol agents who saved these kids deserve our thanks and our gratitude for ensuring their safety,” she said.
The night-vision footage shows a person the CBP describes as a human smuggler climbing atop a section of the border fence and lowering a child down the side of the barrier before dropping her the rest of the way to the ground.
As the first child stood up, the person repeated the process and dropped another child onto the U.S. side of the fence. They appeared to be several feet off the ground when they were dropped.
“Immediately after both children landed on the ground, two smugglers immediately fled the area and abandoned the helpless little girls on the north side of the international boundary line,” the CBP said in the statement.
A Border Patrol agent operating the camera in Santa Teresa saw the children being dropped and alerted other agents in the area to their location. The incident took place in a remote area west of Mt. Cristo Rey.
The children were both alert when responding agents made contact and rendered aid, before taking them to a hospital “for precautionary reasons and further evaluation,” according to CBP.
The girls were cleared and released by the hospital and are now in Border Patrol temporary holding until they can be placed elsewhere by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, officials said.
CBP El Paso Sector Chief Patrol Agent Gloria Chavez said she was “appalled” by what she saw.
“If not for the vigilance of our agents using mobile technology, these two tender-aged siblings would have been exposed to the harsh elements of desert environment for hours,” Chavez said.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas also condemned the smuggling in a statement issued Wednesday.
“The inhumane way smugglers abuse children while profiting off parents’ desperation is criminal and morally reprehensible. Just this month, a young girl died by drowning, a six-month-old was thrown into the river, and two young children were dropped from a wall and left in the desert alone. There can be no doubt that children are exceptionally vulnerable when placed in the hands of smugglers. There is grave risk they will be exploited and harmed. I applaud our heroic Border Patrol agents who have saved lives this week and every week, while putting their own lives at risk for the greater good of the country,” he said.
The secretary’s views are shared by President Biden, Psaki reiterated on Thursday.
“As Secretary Mayorkas said, the inhumane way smugglers abuse children while profiting off parents’ desperation is criminal and morally reprehensible. The President certainly agrees with that. And these kids, I believe, were rescued by — by individuals who were working at the border,” she added.
There were about 17,650 unaccompanied migrant children in U.S. government custody as of this week, according to government data, including 5,767 in CBP custody.