In a journey made under the most trying of circumstances, children as young as two years old are being smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border, without their parents.
Almost 10,000 minors from Central America crossed the border illegally in February, nearly double the previous month's figures, according to U.S. customs data.
The spike comes after a shift in U.S. border policy, when President Joe Biden announced his administration would not bar unaccompanied minors from entering the United States.
Jorge Cordon is a migrant from Guatemala who brought his two daughters to the U.S. border.
"We crossed through the tunnel and they grabbed us from the U.S side of the border and took us to immigration. When they saw the children's papers they said that I had no power over them and immigration was going to take care of the children."
Traveling by bus, by boat and even by plane, the smuggling trips can cost thousands of dollars per child -- and are often financed by parents or relatives already living in the U.S.
Reuters interviewed over a dozen self-identified smugglers, who said some migrant children have even been used as a decoy for the cartels' drug trafficking operations.
Immigrant advocate Dylan Corbett says children who make it to the border could still be turned away.
"Title 42 remains in place and it's a highly consequential policy, because it's resulting in the majority of asylum seekers been returned back. We cannot return children back by federal law, we have to ensure their safety, we have to prioritize them. They're a vulnerable population."
The Biden administration has struggled to house the rising number of unaccompanied minors.
Critics say Biden's mixed messaging on immigration has only created further chaos and confusion at the border, resulting in a growing humanitarian crisis.