The second half of our trip focused on search and recovery operations on local ranches. We were working with Eddie Canales, Arianna & Selina of the South Texas Human Rights Center and Deputy White of the Brooks County Sheriff’s Department. The first day of searching we were joined by a few students from Texas State University. They were able to spend about three hours with us with the goal of collecting data on search coverage using GPS tracking systems. It was a nice opportunity for the UIndy students to interact with their peers in another program and to learn different approaches and techniques for ground searches. The second and third days we focused on a smaller ranch near where Byron’s cousin went missing. Our work became more personal as we searched with him and learned more of his story. He told us about his journey to political asylum in the US, the sadness of not being able to see his family and the pain of loosing his cousin. He summed it up in one simple yet heartbreaking sentence “The life of a migrant is sad.” The pain, the fear, the heartbreak, that does not just go away once you enter the US. It is just transformed into something different yet just as burdensome and heavy.
There were many impactful moments and learning opportunities for the team during this second half of our mission. I asked them each to relay something they learned:
The last few days of our trip have been really impactful for me. Spending time for 3 days straight doing search and recovery on ranches only gave me a glimpse of what it’s like for migrants on a daily basis. But, being around Byron and hearing his story really put my experience into perspective. The three days we spent searching were tough, so to hear that Byron spent two and a half months in conditions similar to and even worse than what we experienced was just heartbreaking. And he went through all of that at the age I am now. There’s no way I could ever be able to handle going through an experience like Byron’s at 24 years old. — Alba
As we walked through the brush there were many pathways heading into the trees. As we followed these pathways in search of evidence or humanity, I realized we were walking the paths of migrants. Paths that were not clear, but instead filled with obstacles throughout the brush. It’s difficult to describe how walking these paths made me feel, but I can say I gained a new perspective and general awe of the migrants and their ambition. — Holley
While conducting our search and recovery operations, one thing I noticed was how easy it is to get turned around in the brush. Our team was equipped with compasses and safety whistles but I highly doubt migrants would have the same resources. For me, this highlights just how unforgiving the environments migrants find themselves in can be and therefore how reliant migrants are on coyotes. — Megan
During our time searching, it really hit me how harsh this environment truly is. There is sand, thorns, stickerburs, animals, tall grass, and more that migrants have to maneuver through, often without any idea of where they are heading. I would imagine this would be even more difficult in the dark, considering just how hard it is in the daylight. It’s incredible that anyone makes it through safely. — Sidney
Most of the team had never been to Texas before, so we decided to wake up early and do a little sightseeing before going to the airport. We loaded up the minivan and went to Whataburger for breakfast taquitos and honey butter chicken biscuits. There are no Whataburgers in Indiana and I wanted to make sure they got to try these famous breakfast staples of Texas. Then we said goodbye to Falfurrias and started the drive to San Antonio.
We started at the Alamo and then made our way to the River Walk. I’ve always felt that this last day is a way to buffer the emotions of ending our work in the Texas Borderlands. These trips are both physically and mentally exhausting for the team. Additionally, these experiences are often intense and push them out of their comfort zones in terms of evaluating their place in a system of privilege and power. It’s not until they slow down that they truly begin to grasp the magnitude of the situation and what they have experienced.
We enjoyed brisket for lunch at Moses Rose’s Hideout and then tres leches cake at Rosario’s. We kept an eye on the radar because severe storms were moving across the Midwest, but we only had minor delays. And then just like that we were back in Indiana. The students are taking the day off to rest, recover and reflect on their experiences. Again, this is often necessary as they begin to consider the fact that they can just leave the border and return to the lifestyles that afford them comfort and security.
Please continue to visit the blog for the next week as we reflect upon our experiences. Thank you for following our journey and supporting us along the way.
The first three days of our trip were spent with Arianna and Selina of the South Texas Human Rights Center. Our goal was to assist them in the repair and filling of water stations. Over the last three days we attended about 40 stations in three different counties. We were also able to see the new protocol stations designed by students at Trinity University. These stations are solar powered, have a place to charge cell phones, transmits the weight of the water (so the STHRC knows when to go fill them), store medical supplies and hold more water then the traditional stations. Spending so much time with them also allowed us to learn more about what they do through the STHRC and with the Missing Migrant Hotline. We saw the time and care they give to each case and some of the steps they are able to take to assist the families of the missing.
Also with us was Deputy Sheriff Don White of the Brooks County Sheriff’s Department. He volunteers his time to search the remote ranch lands of Brooks County for migrants in distress or for the remains of those that have perished. For the last three days he was also volunteering with us to work on the water stations and provide security. He is the only person who conducts searches like this on a regular basis and has saved countless lives and recovered the remains of many migrants that might not have been found otherwise.
These three days gave us just a glimpse of the many people that are volunteering their time and resources to address the crisis at the US-Mexico border. We spent time with some prominent community members and got to hear stories about growing up in the area and some local history. We also met Byron, whose cousin went missing on a ranch near Falfurrias. He frequently drives in from out of state for updates and to make sure there’s progress on his cousin’s case. He also volunteers while in town and went with us to work on water stations. In just three days the team has been exposed to many aspects of border life and many different angles of the migrant crisis. I asked them each to relay an imapctful moment or observation:
One of the most impactful observations that I had these 3 days of filling water stations was at one of the ranches. Seeing all of the damage to the fences made from people trying to get over them is something I’ll never forget; that’s when reality started to hit about how many people are putting their lives in danger just to be in this country. — Alba
The one prototype station with the tarp that had so many scorpions and spiders under the tarp was very eye opening. While we thought it hazardous to even be near the station, anyone crossing through the area wouldn’t even think twice to reach their hands in for some water. — Alba
So far I have learned both how kind people can be and how unkind they can be. A volunteer fills the stations on 1017 on his own time on his way to/from work. On the other hand, people vandalize the stations with hateful messages, just because they can. — Sidney
Being sick during this trip has made me realize how difficult it must be to make such an extensive journey while being ill. I found myself confusing symptoms of my cold with symptoms of dehydration, which could be detrimental to an individual’s health in the environment of Texas if they did not have people with them who recognized the differences or did not have enough water to combat the dehydration. — Holley
One thing that I have noticed so far on this trip and was not expecting is the prevelance of border control officials. It seems that every few miles officers are stationed on the side of the highway and every car, van, and semi truck has been deemed a suspicious vehicle at some time. Witnessing the vigilance of the border control officials puts into perspective just how difficult the journey north is for migrants. I can only imagine walking through the brush for miles to avoid a checkpoint only to come upon a border control agent by chance. This constant risk speaks to the drive migrants must have to reach America and start a new life. — Megan