The 10-year-old had been lost for hours — crying and shaking as he wandered a vast scrubland— when he saw the Border Patrol officer.

“Can you help me?” the boy asked between sniffles.

The agent recorded the interaction, which was widely shared on the Internet, seen by many as a glimpse into the desperation of unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.

But the story behind the video of Wilton Obregón, according to relatives, shows how the Biden administration is putting migrant families in even more peril after they cross the border, in some cases deporting them into the hands of criminal groups.

Wilton and his mother, Meylin, 30, crossed the border into Texas last month to seek asylum after fleeing their native Nicaragua. But they were immediately sent back to Mexico under Title 42, a pandemic-era policy that expels migrants who cross the border without allowing them to apply for protection.

Hours after being expelled to northern Mexico, they were kidnapped, according to Misael Obregón, Meylin’s brother, who lives in Miami.

Misael received a call from the kidnappers. They wanted $10,000 to release Meylin and Wilton.

“They threaten to hurt them both, or worse,” Misael Obregón said. “These people are capable of anything.”

Misael could come up with only $5,000. He sent the cash through a money transfer company. The kidnappers agreed to release Wilton, but not his mother.

The smugglers then abandoned Wilton after leading him across the border, leaving him to wander through the arid farmland of South Texas looking for assistance, until he found the Border Patrol agent who recorded his encounter with the boy.

“I came looking because I didn’t know where to go, and they can also rob or kidnap me or something,” he told the agent.

Meylin remains in the custody of kidnappers. She called Misael Obregón on Friday morning, crying after seeing the video of her bleary-eyed son.

“Now I’m worried that she’s going to die,” said Obregón, “that she’s not going to make it through this.”

The Nicaraguan government on Friday identified Wilton as being the boy in the video, but it did not mention the kidnapping. It said Nicaraguan police had interviewed the boy’s father, who confirmed that Meylin had told him in their last conversation that she and Wilton were preparing to cross the border together because they were “in danger.”

In a speech, the vice president of Nicaragua, Rosario Murillo, said she had called on Interpol to locate the boy and his mother.

“Our national police, our Ministry of the Interior, have made and continue to make inquiries to the United States authorities, Mexican authorities to obtain information that lead us to locate Meylin and the child,” she said.

Wilton is currently in U.S. government custody, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The video of the boy was raised at a White House news conference this week. “I don’t have any response from the president directly. What I can convey is, for any of us who have seen that video, it is heartbreaking,” said press secretary Jen Psaki.

Relatives say the boy and his mother were in part fleeing domestic violence in Nicaragua.

Wilton’s grandmother, Socorro Leiva, described the scramble to pay the ransom.

“The family managed to raise a little money to free the child but we have not been able to pay her part,” Leiva said through tears from her home in the municipality of El Rama.

Thirty-three percent of families who crossed the border last month were expelled to Mexico, according to CBP statistics.

President Biden had long complained about the humanitarian consequences of the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, which forced asylum seekers to wait for the their court hearings in Mexico. Many of them were kidnapped and abused during their months waiting.

Under Title 42, though, which began under President Donald Trump and continues under Biden, asylum seekers are again in the same desperate situation. It’s unclear how many of them have been kidnapped.

“The Biden administration is winding down one of the Trump administration’s most notorious policies but at the same time it is expelling other asylum seekers back to the very same dangers, attacks and kidnappings through its continued use of the Trump administration’s Title 42 policy to evade U.S. refugee law,” Eleanor Acer, senior director of refugee protection at Human Rights First, said in a statement.

López Ocampo reported from Managua, Nicaragua. Nick Miroff in Washington contributed to this article.

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