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Indian woman, 8-year-old daughter located after 6-year-old migrant found dead in Arizona desert

Migrant's daughter's body found Wednesday morning

Border Patrol agents found a mother and her 8-year-old daughter late Thursday night in a remote Arizona wildlife refuge following a day-long search launched after agents found the remains of her 6-year-old daughter, authorities said.

Temperatures in the deserts west of Tucson hit about 108 degrees this week. Authorities blamed human smugglers for the girl's death.

The missing mother and her older daughter, both migrants from India, were taken to a hospital for treatment of dehydration after they crossed back into the United States and surrendered to agents, said a spokesman with Tucson Sector Border Patrol. 

Border Patrol said on Thursday that the woman and her daughters were traveling with two women from India, and that smugglers "ordered the group" to cross into the United States in a "dangerous and austere location," 

Tucson Sector agents found the two other women on Wednesday, and they told the agents that they were traveling with the mother and her children, and had "become separated from them hours earlier." 

Agents began searching the area north of the international border in the remote terrain of the 331,000-acre Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and within hours they found the body of the 7-year-old girl near the U.S.-Mexico border. The girl's remains were found approximately one mile north of the border, about seven miles west of Quitobaquito Springs, a historical spring about 13 miles northwest of Lukeville, Ariz. The area is about 110 miles southwest of Tucson.

The names of the mother and two girls were not released by federal officials. The girl who died was later identified as Gurupreet Kaur. The initial reports of the girl's death described her as seven years old, based on mistaken information released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection staffers.

The first wave of summer heat blasted the area with temperatures of about 108 degrees Thursday afternoon, the National Weather Service said.

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While her remains were recovered by the Pima County Sheriff's Department, aircraft and helicopters from the National Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operations expanded the search, as agents from the Ajo station and the Border Patrol Search Trauma and Rescue unit, or BORSTAR, along with officials from the Bureau of Land Management, combed the area on foot.

Border Patrol agents said that late Wednesday night they located footprints believed to be the woman and her daughter that showed they had crossed back into Mexico. CBP and Mexican authorities continued to search the area, but by Thursday afternoon, a Border Patrol spokesman said the agency was still looking for the woman and her child. 

Late Thursday night, the pair crossed back into the U.S. and were taken into custody by Border Patrol.

Since September, Tucson Sector officials have been increasingly worried about people—especially parents with children, or children traveling alone—crossing in the rugged terrain of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument near Lukeville, Ariz., after encountering large groups of migrants. 

Over the last nine months, Lukeville has become one of the major entry points for asylum seekers, including families and children traveling without parents or guardians fleeing poverty and violence from three Central American countries. 

In early April, a group of nearly 135 sought out agents near Lukeville after crossing in several small groups, and in late March, nearly 400 people crossed the same area, mostly Central American families with children seeking asylum. 

Often these groups would immediately wave down agents, but throughout the fall and winter, the agency continued to warn people about traveling into the area.

Authorities blame smugglers for girl's death

"Our sympathies are with this little girl and her family," said Tucson Chief Patrol Agent Roy Villareal. "This is a senseless death driven by cartels who are profiting from putting lives at risk," he said. 

However, Indian nationals appear to be using the Lukeville corridor to cross as well.  On April 19, two Indian men activated a rescue beacon about 14 miles northwest of Lukeville. 

Last fiscal year, U.S. Border Patrol apprehended people from 113 different countries along the southwest border. While the lion's share of apprehensions are from Mexico and three Central American countries, Border Patrol agents have also taken into custody people from India, Bangladesh and China, according to agency statistics.

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Last year, nearly 9,000 people from India were apprehended, including 461 in the Tucson Sector.

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.

“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.”

Vasavilbaso 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.”

Cronkite News reporter Taniyah Williamson contributed to this story.
Correction: Gurupreet Kaur was six years old; initial reports of the girl’s death described her as seven, based on mistaken information released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection staffers.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

The U.S.-Mexico border west of Lukeville, Arizona in mid-April.


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