About six minutes into her briefing with Customs and Border Protection officials in Tucson on Thursday, Melania Trump asked how often agents see children attempting to cross the border in Arizona alone.
To the first lady’s left sat Rodolfo Karisch, chief of the Tucson sector of the Border Patrol. He had photos and a story that had taken place the week before.
The boy was 6 years old.
'I am looking for my mother'
In a photo taken by the agent who spotted him, he is shown sitting on a berm along the side of a dirt road. Despite it being a 101-degree day, the boy was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and jeans. He had on gray athletic shoes.
The boy carried a large backpack. He also had a zippered tote, possibly an insulated lunch sack. In his left hand, he carried a plastic Coke bottle that was less than one-quarter full. The agency said that was the only drink he had, and that he carried no food.
He also carried a note. The agent snapped a photo of it. It was written in Spanish. In English, it translated to: “I am looking for my mother.”
In the version of the photo released to The Arizona Republic, the line below is blurred out. It is something government agencies often to do to hide personal information, like someone’s name or phone number.
Karisch calmly laid three photos out in front of the first lady: two of the boy and one of the note.
As she looked down at the photos, she said, softly, “Oh, God.”
Karisch told her the details of how the boy was abandoned on the side of the road with the note. He mentioned that the office had put out a press release about the incident, since it seemed to encapsulate all of the dangers on the border.
“This is something that our people encounter on a daily basis,” Karisch told Trump.
According to the agency’s news release, the boy was found on June 19 in the Lukeville area, just north of the border.
The child told agents his uncle dropped him off there, telling him the Border Patrol would pick him up, the release said. The boy said he on his way to see his parents in the United States, the agency said.
The boy, who was from Costa Rica, was in good condition, the release said. He was taken to Tucson for processing.
Boy passed among agencies
A spokesperson for the Tucson office of Customs and Border Patrol said, in an e-mail sent Thursday, that the boy was transferred to an alphabet soup of agencies. He was sent to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office of Enforcement and Removal Operations. That agency, the spokesperson said, turned him over to the Department of Health and Human Services and its Office of Refugee Resettlement.
That agency, according to its procedures, would have tried to place him with a family member. Presumably by calling the number on his note.
If the family couldn’t be reached, by procedure, the office would have placed him in a shelter, possibly a facility like the one Trump would visit a few hours later in Phoenix.
The spokesman for Customs and Border Protection agency said Thursday he could not release the child’s name, though that does mean that the child was able to give the agency at least that.
Trump studied the photos laid out in front of her as she heard the boy’s tale.
“It’s incredible, as young as six years old, you know, someone would leave them,” she said, not quite finishing the sentence. She shook her head. “Wow, very sad.”