A phone number written on the inside of a belt buckle helped investigators track down the family of an 11-year-old boy found dead near Texas' border with Mexico. Hildalgo County Sheriff's officials said it appeared the boy died from heat exposure after making the more than 1,000-mile trek from Guatemala to Texas.
Sheriff Eddie Guerra said the boy was found June 15 near the town of La Joya, about 20 miles west of McAllen. Guerra said the number on the belt buckle was for a relative in Chicago, who then put investigators in touch with the boy's father.
"His son had been released to a human smuggler, a coyote, along with a large group of individuals that were attempting to cross into the U.S.," said Guerra.
News of the boy's death comes as Department of Homeland Security officials released statistics showing the number of unaccompanied children caught illegally crossing the southern border.
Homeland Security officials reported 26,206 unaccompanied children from countries "other than Mexico" were caught crossing the southern border in fiscal year 2013. In fiscal year 2014 that number jumped to 52,193.
Federal officials report the bulk of this increase is being seen in the Rio Grande sector of Texas. Federal officials noted a 178 percent year-to-year spike in the number of unaccompanied children caught in the area.
"The journey is not safe, I continue to stress this," said Jeh Johnson, secretary for the Department of Homeland Security.
Johnson said he would travel to Guatemala next week to again speak directly with Central American citizens about the dangers of placing a child in the hands of a smuggler and sending them on a more than 1,000-mile trek north to the U.S.
Johnson said he will also reiterate the message that there is no automatic asylum or citizenship waiting for these children in America.
The spike in unaccompanied children has overwhelmed detention facilities and forced Border Patrol officials to release many Central American immigrants on their own recognizance because there is not enough space to hold them prior to immigration hearings.
"How many Central American immigrants caught coming here illegally have been released because of a lack of detention space?" Local 2 Investigator Robert Arnold asked Johnson during his visit to McAllen.
"It's plainly a large number, but when we talk about adults coming here with children we're building additional detention capacity," Johnson said.
Federal officials also have yet to provide figures on how many of those released have shown up at mandated immigration hearings.
President Barack Obama also made forceful remarks on Monday regarding the crisis. He said he was taking "executive action" to move Border Patrol resources from the interior of the country to the southern border. Specifically, 150 extra border patrol agents are being sent to the Rio Grande sector.
"I take executive action only when we have a serious problem, a serious issue, and Congress chooses to do nothing," said the president.
Obama also chided Republican leaders in Congress for failing to vote on an immigration overhaul.
"Our system is so broken, so unclear that folks don't know what the rules are," said Obama.
Republican leaders have blamed the problem on Obama's policies toward immigration. The president has also been criticized for not sending more resources to the border sooner.
Following the president's remarks, Houston area U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul sent Local 2 a written statement.
"While I am thankful President Obama is finally considering necessary action, this has been a disaster in the making for months and no action was taken to prevent it from becoming an emergency. I look forward to reviewing the details of their request for legislative fixes and additional funding," McCaul said in the statement.