EDINBURG, Texas (KVEO)- More than 3,500 unaccompanied children have been found by Border Patrol agents alone along the Rio Grande Valley Sector, in the last two months.
Data shows a sharp increase from just a few months ago.
“We had a group that was comprised of children, we had a-1 year-old, two 3-year-olds, a 7-year-old and a 12-year-old,” said Lloyd Easterling, Deputy Chief Patrol Agent in Charge of the Border Patrol Rio Grande Valley Sector.
That group of children were found alone in the middle of the night in 30 degree weather. But, why the increase? Agents say it’s a tactic.
“It’s heart wrenching…It’s another one of those times, that it’s so alarming children that young would be out there put in the elements, but we see it,” said Easterling.
Easterling says these children are arriving in family groups, then they’re caught with their families and they are sent back across the border.
“Next thing you know they end up on the riverbank with a phone number on their shirt. Two or three days after we catch them, we catch the same parent we found them with last time, but with a different group, so we’re seeing separation happening by themselves to improve of their chances across the border. ” explained Easterling.
Some of the youngest children found wandering alone are just months old. Easterling says agents they routinely have seen toddlers, one, two and sometimes three year-olds. Sometimes these children are seen in the care of their older sibling who are at between eight or nine years old.
“Within those groups are criminal people, sex predators and that’s why it’s such a huge issue for us to see these poor children out there,” said Easterling, “First of all, It’s heart wrenching and secondly, they’re held in stash houses with people they don’t know and health issues that could accompany that.”
And agents say this is on the beginning as they’re anticipating more unaccompanied children and family units.
“With all the talk of DACA and amnesty, that’s one thing the smugglers are using, that language to draw people into make money, they don’t care what happens afterwards and that’s the worst part about it, we’re beginning to see family units rise, we anticipate that’s going to be trending up quickly, the numbers may not show right now, but what we see on a day to day basis is an increase and we are beginning to see a trend of family units more and more and given everything we believe is coming we think that number will correspond up,” said Easterling.
It’s an upward trend not only in the Rio Grande Valley, but in other border regions as well.
This week, Tuscon, Arizona Border Patrol agents found three toddlers wandering the border alone in triple digit heat.
Agents are trained for these types of situations and say they are always keeping an eye out for those that can’t take care of themselves.
“Usually that 2-year-old will be in a group of strangers, they could be a smuggler or a stranger that the smuggler told ‘take them with you’. Sometimes agents encounter a 2-year-old or a tender age toddler out on the river or out on the road alone and the first thing we do is make sure they’re okay, healthy, once they get to a facility, a care giver, a contract workers responds to them and checks them medically and then we get that child in a facility to get them the best care,” said Easterling.
If an unaccompanied child is found by U.S. Border Patrol and they’re medically cleared, they are then transferred to the U.S. Office of Refugee and Resettlement where they are then placed in facilities throughout the country, until either claimed by a family member or the federal government decides where they are housed.
The most recent child found alone at the border was Thursday.