An abandoned 3-year-old child was found crying in a cornfield near the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas early on Tuesday morning, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Officials said that the boy had his name and a phone number written on his shoes, and that they were trying to reach his family. They said the child may have been traveling with a larger group of migrants who ran away when they spotted Border Patrol agents approaching, leaving him alone in the field.
The agency didn’t immediately respond to a request late on Tuesday for more information, such as where the boy was spending the night. According to NBC News, officials have been unable to locate the 3-year-old’s parents so far and are working to transfer him to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Rodolfo Karisch, the chief Border Patrol agent in the Rio Grande Valley, told NBC News that the child, who was found near Brownsville, Tex., may have been abandoned by smugglers. Agents took the boy to a nearby border station and gave him movies to watch while they tried to contact his parents. The boy appeared to be in good spirits, Karisch said.
The discovery comes as a rapidly increasing number of families with children are crossing the southern border, leading U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan to declare last month that border security was “at a breaking point.”
In early March, an unaccompanied 2-year-old was among the 700 migrants who were taken into custody in El Paso in a single night.
Officials have expressed concerns about the rising number of unaccompanied minors who are being held in cramped detention cells because HHS isn’t able to find shelters to place them in fast enough, The Washington Post’s Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti reported. Of the 1,350 children who were being held in cells without a parent in March, 20 percent were 12 years old or younger.
Though the children can legally only be held in CBP custody for under 72 hours, officials told The Post in March that they were being kept in detention cells for longer periods of time because HHS had nowhere to put them, leaving the agency without any other option.