Sunday, December 04, 2022

Anonymous graves: the tragic end of some migrants at the US border

border cemetery Eagle PassWith figurines and flower arrangements, at first glance it looks like no other. But in the background, about 40 improvised crossings with PVC pipes reveal tragedy in South Texas, where the American dream of many immigrants ends up in unmarked graves.

(In context: detentions of Colombian migrants at the US border increased by 1,147% in 2022)

In a sea of ​​tombs with Hispanic names, small plaques labeled “John Doe”—the Anglo-Saxon formula for an unidentified person—and an American flag stuck in the ground next to a rudimentary cross, accentuate The paradox of these migrants buried without identity The country in which they were looking for a second chance.

The United States recorded a record year with more than 2.2 million apprehensions at its southern border. But another scar, heartbreaking, shapes the tragedy behind this figure: From October 2021 to August, more than 700 migrants died trying to reach the United States, up 36% from the previous year. is more.

“(The crossing) was a tough test,” said Alejandra, a 35-year-old Colombian who didn’t know how to swim, crossing the mighty Rio Grande to reach Texas. “But it was scary to return.”

(You can read: What is a US fiance visa, how does it work and how can you apply for it?)

Thirsty, and hiding from the scorching sun under a tree, Alejandra screams for refuge in Colombia fearing organized crime. “If we go back, they’ll kill us,” he said, looking at his three teenage sons sitting next to him.

The United States recorded a record year with more than 2.2 million apprehensions at its southern border.


Fearing deportation, many follow the “coyotes” who drag the mortality rate into Texas. 112 km from the border, last year 119 bodies found in tiny Brooks County21% of all frontline deaths in 2021.

To escape the authorities at the checkpoints in the county’s main city, Falfurius, migrants enter the hacienda and succumb to temperatures in excess of 30ºC, lost among the dense dry vegetation and treacherous sands.

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(ALSO: The US economy grew 0.6% during the third quarter)

“It’s deadly out there,” says Sheriff Urbino Martinez. Known as “Benny” in the Falfurrias, he was nicknamed “The Undertaker” in Washington.,

“We started recording the bodies found in 2009,” he said, pointing to the twenty thick quantity where his department had recorded information on 913 cases.

“I would multiply that by 5 or 10 to consider the bodies we’ll never find,” said the sheriff, who inaugurated a mobile morgue last year.

The folders are labeled “Human Remains” and some photos do the caption justice by showing only the torso, skull, or a few bones.

We’ve even found bones in rat caves

The 66-year-old sheriff says in his office, “This summer, the body is completely decomposed in 72 hours. And the animals destroy what’s left. Wild boars, rats, whatever’s outside destroyed it.” gives.” “We’ve also found bones in rat caves.”

The morning he received AFP, Martinez returned with a body recovery, raising the balance to 80. “It (119K) is less than in 2021. But 80, 80 is higher.” “It takes a toll on you not only physically but mentally as well.”

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no identity

“The most common cause of death is heat stroke or dehydration,” said Corinne Stern, in charge of the main morgue in South Texas. “Up until five years ago, the border was occupied by me 30% of the time. Now, 75%,” says the doctor, with a necklace bearing the Hebrew letter for “life” hanging around his neck.

In the reception area of ​​the morgue, a painting reads “Let the dead live.” Inside, a blackboard lists dozens of “John Do” and “Jane Do”.

“More than 95% of the border cases we receive are not identified” Stern said.

(Also read: State of emergency declared in New York due to ‘crisis in migrant influx’)

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The enclosure is spotless, but the smell of decomposition is unbearable, penetrating through the facade. “Last year we had about 296 deaths related to the border. This year we are at 250,” he continues after analyzing a body, still with clothing but reduced to bones, almost without skin. or organs.

The “patient” was carrying a small olive green bag. When the Doctor picks him up, two lollipops fall from the bright and colorful covers that collide with the earthy ocher that envelops the clothes and bones.

trying to identify him, DNA samples are extracted, but for now it will be labeled as another “Gene Doe”.,

‘Where’s my wife?’

In 2013, a year after 129 bodies were found in Brooks, Eduardo Canales founded the South Texas Center for Human Rights.

Former trade unionists set up water stations in the bowels of many haciendas to prevent migrants from getting drunk from cattle drinking fountains.

Canless, 74, stocks blue plastic barrels with location coordinates and a phone number to call for help. But when he started getting calls from relatives searching for missing loved ones after crossing the border, he decided to expand his work.

Families never stop watching, they never give up. They keep wondering where is my wife? My brother? my daughter?

“The most important thing to me is that families can close the cycle,” he says with desperation. “Families never stop watching, they never give up. They never stop asking themselves, Where is my wife? My brother? My daughter?”

Many were buried anonymously at Falfurious Cemetery, but a partnership with Texas State University and officials allowed dozens of bodies to be extracted and identified by fingerprints or DNA.

The effort has reduced unmarked graves at Brooks: 107 of the 119 migrants found in 2021 were identified. “But many more die and disappear without ever being found,” Canales says, pointing to the sea around the bushes. “The only constant here is death.”

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