NEW YORK — The discovery of the body of a seven-year-old Indian girl in a treacherous desert area in the state of Arizona has put the spotlight on rising illegal immigrants from India trying to cross into the U.S. through Mexico.
The Customs and Border Patrol said June 14 that about 9,000 Indians were caught entering the U.S. illegally last year, a dramatic increase from the 3,162 in 2017.
The CBP's statement comes after the girl's body was discovered June 13 near the Lukeville and Quitobaquito Springs in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument biosphere reserve, a forbidding landscape in the dry and arid Arizona state.
The CBP said the girl died while she and four others, including an Indian woman and her eight-year-old daughter, were dropped off near the Mexico-U.S. border by "human smugglers who ordered the group to cross (into the U.S.) in the dangerous and austere location.”
A temperature of 42 degrees Celsius was recorded that day in that area.
The CBP said that on June 13 its agents had encountered two Indian women who told them that three others in the group had become separated from them and a search was started for them. The body was found during the search and recovered by the local sheriff's department.
Later that day, the agents found footprints indicating the other two, the mother and daughter, had crossed back into Mexico and authorities there began to look for them.
However, the two returned to the U.S. side of the border and surrendered to CPB agents and were hospitalized for treatment of dehydration.
Meanwhile, the Indian Consulate General in San Francisco is trying to help the victim's family.
A consul officer, Sumati Rao, told IANS in an e-mailed statement June 14: "The Consulate is deeply distressed with the sad loss of a young life. We are in touch with the CBP officials on the situation. We have also reached out to the family and offered assistance."
None of them has been identified and officials did not disclose if the dead child was related to any of the others in the group.
The Indian American and South Asian American nonprofit group South Asians Leading Together, however, identified the young victim in a statement emailed to India-West June 17. It said: “We are devasted to learn of the death of 6-year-old Gurupreet Kaur…Gurupreet and her mother were reportedly among a group of five Indian nationals who were dropped off by migrant traffickers in a remote area along the U.S.-Mexico border. Her mother and another woman went in search of water, leaving Gurupreet with two others from the group. Gurupreet’s mother was found by a U.S. Border Patrol agent 22 hours later. Four hours after that, Border Patrol agents found Gurupreet’s body.”
The organization added that it would be sending a letter of inquiry to Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan this week, demanding an investigation into Gurupreet’s death and information about her mother and the other migrants in their group.
Lakshmi Sridaran, interim co-executive director of SAALT, said: “U.S. border militarization, forced migration, and rejection of migrants attempting to cross at ports of entry have created an environment where a child like Gurupreet can die in the desert, alone. Until this system is completely defunded and a new one is created that upholds the dignity of all migrants – we will continue to see unspeakable tragedies, notwithstanding the countless deaths that go undocumented. While ICE and CBP have experienced unprecedented surges in their budgets, their treatment of migrants has plunged to new lows.”
In 2018, about 260 people reportedly died while crossing illegally from Mexico, most of them due to the harsh environment with long stretches of desert along the border.
The body of another illegal immigrant with an Indian connection was found last September in Texas.
The person's body had documents showing travel from India, according to reports.
President Donald Trump's administration has been trying to contain an upsurge of illegal immigration, mostly by Central Americans on the Mexican border. Last month, the CPB detained 144,200 illegal immigrants, the most for a single month in 13 years.
In a growing trend, many of those trying to illegally enter the U.S. are bringing along children in hopes that they would get lenient treatment and early release from detention while their case – usually an appeal for asylum – is processed.
Human smugglers, known locally as "coyotes,” often leave illegal immigrants in the desert or other inhospitable environments or keep them hostages to demand more payments or traffic them.
Vowing to fight the coyotes, Trump said in February: "My administration has made the fight against human trafficking one of our highest priorities."
(With IANS and India-West reports)