EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The two Ecuadorian toddlers caught by a surveillance camera being dropped over the border barrier and abandoned by smugglers are one step closer to being reunited with their family in the United States.
The girls ages 3 and 5 on Monday were released from Border Patrol custody and placed in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, a federal official said.
“A case worker from HHS will begin to work with them. Most of the time they reach out to family members for interviews and vetting to make sure there’s a safe place for the child,” said Landon Hutchens, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “Most of the time they try to place them with a family member – a parent, an uncle or somebody else. And if that’s not available, they try to place them in foster care.”
The case gained worldwide attention as a CBP camera captured the moment a smuggler straddles the border wall near Sunland Park, New Mexico, releases the girls one at a time and runs away back to Mexico with an accomplice. The video shows one girl’s legs buckle forward and remain facing the ground while the other falls backwards as the smuggler lets go.
On Monday, CBP released a photograph showing the two girls wearing identical blue clothing chatting with Border Patrol El Paso Sector Chief Gloria Chavez over a food tray inside a processing center.
The girls are now “in good health and good condition,” Hutchens said.
Last week, the Ecuadorian consulate in Houston identified the children of Diego Vacacela and Yolanda Macas as Yareli, 3 and Yasmina, 5. A consular officer told the New York Post the girls are eventually to be reunited with their parents in New York City.
In an April 2 Facebook post, the consulate referred to the incident as a “reprehensible” act which resulted in the “inhumane” abandonment of the two minors by smugglers.
“The (Foreign Ministry) rejects and condemns such attitudes of contempt for human life on the part of criminals who illicitly traffic with migrants, and urges families and parents to avoid exposing themselves or their children to dangers associated with irregular migration,” the consulate said in its post.
The identity and whereabouts of the smugglers seen in the video remains unknown.
“The U.S. Border Patrol El Paso Sector continues to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the government of Mexico in pursuit of the suspects responsible for recklessly endangering the lives of the two rescued Ecuadorian girls,” CBP said in a statement to Border Report. “As to date there have been no arrests and the government of Mexico has opened up an investigation into this tragic incident.”
The Mexican side of Mount Cristo Rey from where the smugglers apparently brought over the girls is a known staging point for clandestine drugs and migrant crossings. Just days prior to the incident, a Border Report/KTSM crew spotted men who appeared to be lookouts on the Mexican side of the mountain.
The Juarez and Sinaloa drug cartels and their associate gangs are the primary transnational criminal organizations operating in that area, CBP told Border Report.