Young Sisters Dropped Over 14-Foot Border Wall Will Reportedly Be Reunited with Family in U.S.
Two young Ecuadorian sisters who were dumped over the southern border wall last month in New Mexico will soon be reunited with their parents in the U.S., officials told local media.
The girls — 3 and 5 years old — were dropped over the 14-foot fence late at night on March 30 near Santa Teresa, New Mexico, just west of El Paso, Texas.
Officials with Customs and Border Protection described the drop as "a potentially life-threatening situation" which was spotted by a border patrol officer who happened to see the incident take place on a security camera.
Local TV station KVIA reported the girls were brought to the hospital for a checkup before they were released.
They "remain in CBP custody awaiting HHS placement and are in good health," an agency spokesperson tells PEOPLE.
"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," El Paso Sector Chief Patrol Agent Gloria I. Chavez said in a statement.
Chavez told KVIA that the agency had tracked down the girls' mother in the U.S. and that they were working to reunite the family. "Because that's the key, right?" Chavez said.
Unaccompanied minors are initially taken in by CBP before being handed off to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), who then works to locate "sponsors" for the children to stay with while going through the country's immigration process about whether they will ultimately remain in the country.
Sponsors are typically family members already residing in the U.S.
The HHS declined to provide information to PEOPLE about the two young girls' reunification process, citing their age.
Dramatic night-time footage released by the CBP shows the two girls dropped from a high fence onto the dirt below, before two individuals on the other side run off into the night, leaving the children behind.
The agency said "two smugglers immediately fled the area and abandoned the helpless little girls on the north side of the international boundary line."
The girls parents sent for their kids to be reunited with them, arranging for their travel from the small town of Jaboncillo in Ecuador, the children's grandfather told Telemundo.
Lauro Vacacela told the outlet that the girls' parents have been able to contact them.
The footage of the girls getting dumped over the border wall came at the end of a month when the U.S. saw an all-time record for unaccompanied minors attempting to cross the southern border. (Border officials have been publishing numbers of migrants crossing into the U.S. since 2009, according to the Associated Press.)
Data from CBP shows nearly 18,900 children showed up at the border without a guardian in March — the most ever recorded in U.S. history and believed to be a result of a complicated mix of factors including grave conditions in Central America and migrants' hope that President Joe Biden's administration will be more welcoming compared with his predecessor.
The number of unaccompanied children arriving at the border this year has approximately doubled each month, rising from 5,852 in January to 9,431 in February to 18,890 in March.
The White House described the increase, which has strained the government's ability to care for and expediently process the children, as a "crisis." The administration has drawn increasing criticism for the conditions of the children — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called them "barbaric" — while pleading for patience as it navigates solutions.
Last week, after footage of the two young Ecuadorian girls being dropped over the border wall made international headlines, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas released a statement saying "the inhumane way smugglers abuse children while profiting off parents' desperation is criminal and morally reprehensible."
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the administration's concern and focus was on "sending a clear message to smuggler — to the region that this is not the time to come."
"You should not send your kids on this treacherous journey," Psaki, 42, said. "That these smugglers are preying on vulnerabilities in these communities. There's a lot of issues and steps we need to take to address root causes."
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