The Ripple Effect

There is no quick and easy “fix” to what is happening in the Texas Borderlands. The crisis occurring now is the result of decades of trade, immigration and political policies made and enforced by multiple countries.  It is no one person or one politician’s fault. The issues stretch far beyond our borders into Central and South America. They are fueled by poverty, violence, fear and hate. Yet, it’s easy if you are geographically, financially or socially separated from the border to ignore what is happening.  It’s easy to rationalize or to blame when it does not directly impact you.

A path formed by migrants

There are multiple goals to the humanitarian science missions of the Beyond Borders team, one of which is global citizenship. Global citizenship is an awareness and understanding of the wider world based on empowerment through education and action. Beyond Borders team members take an active role in working with others to promote a sense of common humanity and social responsibility. Part of that is experiencing and understanding the feelings of another person. These missions allow them to literally walk in another person’s shoes. Whether that be the migrant who was forced from their home on a dangerous journey, the human rights activist working towards policy change, the law enforcement officer giving everything to save the living and recover the dead, the rancher who is skeptical of strangers in their yard, the mother who has just realized her son is likely dead, the community member navigating a crisis they did not ask for or the college student unaware of their own place of privilege in society.

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Another goal is the practical application of forensic skills. Whether it’s the orienteering and observational skills associated with a search, the archeological technique required of an exhumation, or the osteology and mapping expertise entailed by a surface recovery. Many of these are skills the team members arrive with, having learned and honed them during forensic casework in the Midwest. However, in the Texas Borderlands they really see the importance of skills like communication and teamwork. When conducting a line search in thick brush it’s imperative that you not only keep eyes on your teammates but that you make sure they know exactly where you are and what you are doing. The success of the mission hinders on organization and efficiency. If a team member were to wander or get lost, the time it takes to find them takes away from the time devoted to the search. Teamwork not only involves working well together as a team but realizing that the mission is more important than your individual wants. While each member is eager to learn and get opportunities, it’s when you stop being short sighted about what you want and realize the team is only as strong as its weakest member that this is accomplished. Making sure everyone is learning or refining all the various skills and tasks, rather than doing what you like the best, makes for a very strong team.

(Sammi taking measurements for the map)

The experiences the team had this mission in Brooks County and the powerful reflections they have posted the last few days demonstrate this team has accomplished and learned so much. We built, repaired and/or filled approximately 70 miles of water stations, met with family members of the missing, cleared about 20 miles of brush during line searches, assisted local law enforcement and border patrol with recovery operations, and contributed to policy change. We accomplished our goal of volunteering our forensic skills towards a large scale migrant recovery and identification initiative. But, equally important, I watched four students grow in powerful ways over our time in Brooks County. They learned that in certain situations it is better to listen then speak, that personal minor discomforts are temporary and in no way comparable to what many are facing in the borderlands, that building meaningful relationships can be as important as skills in helping you achieve your goals, that looking out for you team can help you accomplish more than just looking out for your best interests, that you should not judge until you hear the whole story, that small efforts are what eventually bring about big changes and that walking in another’s shoes can be life changing.

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While we emphasize that this is about the crisis at our border and the lives it impacts, not about us. We must also recognize that change cannot happen unless there are people who will advocate for it. “Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.” You must chose whether those ripples work for the common good or continue to complicate the situation. I’ve witnessed both. But I feel confident this team will continue to strive for social justice while being cognizant of  the far reaching impacts of their actions, and will be the change they wish to see in the world.

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Thank you for following our journey this trip. If you wish to support any of the volunteers we mentioned in the blog please follow the hyperlinks to the appropriate pages: Beyond Borders Team, South Texas Human Rights Center or Remote Wildlands Search and Recovery (Don White).

Beyond Borders

~KEL

Bittersweet

The word that comes to mind when thinking about my departure from Falfurrias is bittersweet. On the one hand, I am very sad that I am leaving behind all the new people I met during the week. I am going to miss sharing jokes and laughs with Eddie Canales, the director of the South Texas Human Rights Center. In my short time of knowing him I can tell that he is very passionate about not only advocating for migrant rights,  but also preventing migrant deaths. He accomplishes both by trying to change local policies in place and by constantly building/ replenishing water stations along highly traveled routes. I am going to miss daily conversations with the kind-hearted Sheriff Deputy Don White! He is a wealth of knowledge and really showed our team how to navigate through the thick, thorny brush during search and recoveries! He literally knows the lay of the Texas land and knows how to get out of “sticky” situations. For instance, on the last day of searching, his truck got stuck in the sand and was able to quickly come up with a plan to get out.

 

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Sheriff Deputy Don White’s truck stuck in sand

 

I am sad because I am going to miss the little routine that we created during our week there. I got used to waking up early to load up gallons of waters into the truck to refill stations we saw along the way to the ranches, walking 3-5 miles a day doing searches/recoveries, and our little debriefing meetings before going to bed. I am going to miss the daily cow sightings on the ranches, the team got excited EVERY time we saw one.

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cows

I am sad because I now have a slight understanding of the realities and hardships migrants face while making their journey to the United States. I emphasize slight because, while we walk the same paths and routes as migrants, we have a sense of security knowing we will make it out the treacherous terrain well and alive. We are protected from head to toe with the proper gear like snake gaiters, bug repellent, hydration backpacks, etc. The vehicle that we have waiting for us after search and recoveries, is fully equipped with first aid kits, food, and water. After a few miles of walking, we get to call it a day and head back to our hotel to sleep and rest. The reality is that migrants walk hundreds of miles for several weeks and do not get the same amount of sleep or rest. They carry the bare minimum with them because they do not have the means or capability of having all of the proper gear. They do not have the same sense of security of making it out alive.

Burial at Sacred Heart Cemetery
Burial at Sacred Heart Cemetery

During our last day of search and recoveries we encountered a recent migrant camp-out. Here, we saw items we think of as essentials get left behind. There were several backpacks filled with clothing, unopened non-perishable food items, and medications. Maybe the items just became too heavy to carry around? Meaning they were left no choice but to consolidate what was more important to carry for the remainder of their trip. The truth is that we will never know and can only speculate the reasons why those certain items got left behind. Seeing this really put things into perspective, I could not imagine having to make  that tough decision.

Backpacks that were left behind
Backpacks that were left behind

On the other hand, I feel happy to be back in Indianapolis because I know our work does not have to end in Texas. Even though Indiana is not considered a border state, we have the capabilities to be an advocate and raise awareness of the humanitarian crisis to fellow peers, friends, and family. I feel happy that I was a part of such a strong, well working team so, thank you Alba, Sammi, and Sidney!  I also want to thank Dr. Krista Latham for being such an amazing teacher/leader, and for providing this opportunity to her students.

I hope to be back one day!

The team, the number one, the gold standard

Tanya

The Gold Standard

It’s day three back in Indy from my third trip with the Beyond Borders team, and this blog just keeps getting harder and harder to write. Not because I have no reflections, or because I did not enjoy my time, or because I didn’t learn anything, but because I am not ready to be home. I will never be ready. How can I reflect on something with which I will never be completely finished?

Every trip leaves a part of myself in the field. There are pieces of me scattered all around Brooks county. These are pieces that I will never get back, because they belong there. And coming home a little less of myself and little more someone new is tough, even though every trip changes me for the better. I am able to see myself grow little by little into someone I want to be and am proud to be. 

My growth this trip specifically was rooted in my team. Their support and general concern for each other’s well being is what allowed me to push myself harder. I traveled farther, through thicker brush, because I knew they were there. Sometimes, I got stuck. And they were there, to take pictures at first, but then to stop the line search until I was able to get

Me, quite literally, stuck in the brush
Me, quite literally, stuck in the brush

back into our formation, make sure I was okay, then continue. This team is unlike any other of which I have had the opportunity to be a part. Each case we do here in Indiana, each school project, brings about a new team. But this team. This team is what I will hold as my gold standard for as long as I am in the field. 

Dr. Latham, our fearless leader. She works harder than every single one of us combined and then some. Her ability to traverse the challenging political landscape at the Border with grace and poise is something I admire and can only hope to one day emulate. I am so proud to be her student and mentee, and hope that I am able to continue to use her as my anchor, even if we are equally directionally challenged.

Sammi, the tried and true. Never have I ever seen someone so dedicated and good. Watching Sammi work and map is truly incredible, and I learn something new every day with her.

Alba, my truest partner in crime. Alba cares so deeply for everyone and everything, in a true Cancer passion. She knows what I am thinking, even from other ends of the line search. I am thankful for her friendship and above all, her ability to make anyone feel important.

Tanya, the rookie. The one who will do anything you ask, because she is so eager to learn. She will go so far, and I cannot wait to cheer her on.

And of course, our team would be nothing without Deputy White and Eddie. Both are so incredibly selfless, having dedicated their lives to the border crisis. Working alongside both of them is quite literally a blessing. I am thankful for their leadership, guidance, and encouragement. 

So, while I may still be partially in Falfurrias, I know that my team continues to have my back, which is more than I could have ever asked for. Hopefully, I will be back in Falfurrias one day, and be able to give it everything it has given me.

The team, the number one, the gold standard
The team, the number one, the gold standard

Sidney