7-year-old girl dies crossing border; authorities blame smugglers

PHOENIX – The death of a 7-year-old girl whose body was found near the Arizona-Mexico border Wednesday is a tragedy that immigration officials blame squarely on smugglers.

“The reason why this happens is the unscrupulous smuggler organizations went and dropped these people in the border in a very remote area,” said Jesus Vasavilbaso, a spokesman for the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector. “They were dropped about 17 miles west of the port of entry of Lukeville.

“The smuggler organizations are lying to these people, promising that they’re going to be able to get legal status when that’s not the case.”

After finding the remains of the girl, who is thought to be from India, authorities searched the desert for the girl’s mother and 8-year-old sister, who had separated from a larger group of border-crossers. The mother and daughter turned themselves in to agents Friday morning, according to azcentral.com, and were hospitalized for dehydration.

On Wednesday, agents apprehended a group of Indian migrants who told them a woman and two children had gotten separated from the group. Agents found the remains of the child along with footprints heading back to Mexico.

Temperatures Wednesday were near 110 degrees.

Matthew Sussis, a spokesman for the Center for Immigration Studies, said people are bringing children with them to cross the border because U.S.laws allow it. The center is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit research organization that opposes both illegal and legal immigration into the U.S.

“It’s absolutely tragic, and I think it speaks to the issues of the poll factors of bringing people into this country and why it’s so important that we ensure that people don’t have to make this extremely dangerous journey where unfortunately children are dying,” Sussis said.

“If you went to Rio Grande Valley, almost none of the single men had children with them. Now, about half are bringing children with them – and that’s directly in response to these openings in our asylum law. So that’s what’s drawing all the children to get brought on, which really is very dangerous and very unsafe journey.”

The U.S. has seen an increase in immigrants from Asian and Central American countries. Undocumented immigration from Mexico has dropped so significantly over a decade that Mexicans no longer make up the majority of those living in the U.S. illegally, according to a Pew Research Center report.

Vasavilbaso, the Border Patrol spokesman, said people traveling in such harsh conditions often are acting out of desperation.

“We’re part of the community, and we also have children, so it breaks our hearts when something like this happens,” he said. “Regardless of your legal status, we don’t want anybody to get hurt out there.”

This story contains information from Michel Marizco, a reporter with Fronteras. The Fronteras Desk is a KJZZ project that covers news in a wide expanse of desert that stretches from northern Arizona deep into northwestern Mexico.