Smuggler hoists girl over US border wall, returns to Mexico without her

The U.S. Department of Defense released a video showing a smuggler lifting a 7-year-old girl over the U.S.-Mexico border wall and then leaving her abandoned in California while he returned to Mexico alone.

U.S. Border Patrol agents from El Centro Sector said they discovered the little girl Tuesday around 9:25 a.m. local time, according to a news release

Operators at El Centro Station’s Remote Video Surveillance System said they saw a man carrying a small child on his back as he climbed a rope ladder on top of the 30-foot wall. He then waited before lowering the child onto the U.S. side. 

Agents said they noticed the smuggling but waited until the child safely landed on U.S. soil before intervening.

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"This decision was made out of caution, believing that the smuggler might panic and drop the child, resulting in serious injury or death given the height of the border wall," officials said in a statement. "Just north of the border wall is the All-American Canal, which posed another physical danger to the child."

Agents said they performed a welfare check on the girl, who is from El Salvador. She’s now El Centro Sector Processing Center to be medically evaluated and processed accordingly.

"No one, let alone a child of any age or race, should be exposed to the multitude of dangers when crossing illegally into this country," Chief Patrol Agent Gregory K. Bovino said. "Smugglers will always view children as a commodity to gain a profit, disregarding the safety and well-being of any individual except their own."

Encounters between U.S. authorities and unaccompanied children at the border remain high with nearly 20,000 encounters in August, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Between October 2020 and August 2021, nearly 133,000 unaccompanied children have been found at the border. That’s compared to less than 40,000 between October 2019 and September 2020. 

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The issue continues to persist. Last week, Acting Chief Patrol Agent of the U.S. Border Patrol's Tucson Sector Sabri Y. Dikman tweeted that many unaccompanied minors were left at the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona. 

"A group of 125 migrants surrendered to #ThreePoints Station agents near San Miguel, Arizona," he posted. "Nearly three quarters were unaccompanied children. Large groups of mostly children continue to be exploited by smugglers who leave them at the border for agents to encounter."

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is caught between a hard place and an even harder one when it comes to immigration.

Biden embraced major progressive policy goals on the issue after he won the Democratic nomination, and he has begun enacting some. But his administration has been forced to confront unusually high numbers of migrants trying to enter the country along the U.S.-Mexico border, and the federal response has inflamed both critics and allies.

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Just 35% of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of immigration, down from 43% in April, when it was already one of Biden’s worst issues, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Immigration is a relatively low point for Biden within his own party with just 60% of Democrats saying they approve.

Images of Border Patrol agents on horseback blocking Haitian migrants from crossing the Rio Grande only added to the angst. While the widely shared photos incorrectly suggested that agents were using their reins to whip at mostly Black migrants, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Biden expressed outrage at the tactics and Homeland Security is investigating.

Some of Biden’s strongest supporters on Capitol Hill and among outside immigrant advocates had already been expressing outrage about the administration’s continued reliance on a Trump-era public health authority, known as Title 42, to rapidly expel migrants, including thousands of Haitians.

RELATED: Mayorkas: Border Patrol horseback photos 'horrified' him

Biden’s response has been to try to address the " root causes " of migration by increasing aid to Central America, which was cut under Trump, and restoring a program that enabled children from the region to apply for visas to join their families in the U.S.

His administration has also proposed a federal rule to protect immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

Legislative efforts aside, the administration has stopped the Trump-era practice of expelling children crossing alone from Mexico under Title 42, and has allowed thousands of migrant families to remain in the U.S. while they pursue asylum claims — a process that frequently ends in denial but can take years for a final decision.

It has, however, continued to use Title 42 to expel many families and nearly all solo adults, with Mayorkas repeatedly insisting it is a necessary public health measure, aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 in detention facilities.

A federal judge, ruling in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and others, recently declared the reliance on Title 42 to deny people the right to seek asylum is likely illegal, and said he would issue a preliminary injunction halting its use. The Biden administration appealed, further infuriating the critics.

The Associated contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.