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
“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care“
– Theodore Roosevelt
Being a forensic scientist in a human rights context requires maneuvering the social, political and cultural landscape in ways quite different from what a forensic scientist in more typical US medicolegal contexts encounters. In my usual forensic casework I communicate with the coroner’s office and local law enforcement, and not with the families or the communities of the deceased. This will be my 10th trip to the Texas Borderlands. Each trip I am still learning different aspects regarding the crisis at our border, how my team fits into the sociopolitical and scientific landscape and how I can both provide my expertise as a forensic scientist to work towards identifications and provide a meaningful learning experience for my student team.
Each trip is ultimately successful in providing an opportunity for University of Indianapolis students to apply the forensic skills they’ve learned in the classroom to real world situations. Whether searching for, locating and exhuming burials or conducting systematic line searches, they are gaining valuable experience. However, they have the opportunity to participate in forensic casework in the Midwestern US. Therefore, these trips are a way to provide them the opportunity to navigate the unexpected challenges and intensive work associated with the migrant crisis response.
It cannot be expected that they fully grasp the sociopolitical situation at the border in one brief trip. But by putting our work into perspective within the bigger migrant crisis in the Texas Borderlands it allows them to make connections between what they read or hear and what they are actually observing while on one of our humanitarian science missions. They interact with the immediate community to better understand how the humanitarian crisis impacts their daily lives and livelihood. They have visited detention and respite centers to interact directly with migrant families to better understand the conditions that produced this crisis. They have also worked with social justice organizations to provide water along known migrant routes and worked with local law enforcement to do large scale searches along known migrant paths. And while every student does not get the exact same experience, the goal is to provide them with a broader understanding of the social conditions in the Texas Borderlands.
Each trip takes a lot of preparation. It’s always awkward to speak of the physical and mental preparation and the items we pack to facilitate our work. We spend weeks mentally and physically preparing for a glimpse at the lived conditions and lived reality of thousands of individuals. That itself is proof of the privilege we have. As students and teachers we are by no means wealthy, but this teaches us that “wealth” is a perspective. We may not get to purchase everything we want, but we do not fear of days or weeks with no food for ourselves or our families. We have the potential to be and do great things in the US, especially as college educated individuals. We do not fear for our lives on a daily basis.
As we move through the landscape we have everything we might need to protect us from the harsh environment: water, food, bug sprays, sunscreen, first aid kits and antihistamines, to name a few. Again, this shows the privilege that we can “prepare” for what awaits us in the Texas Borderlands. We leave tomorrow for our next mission, unsure of exactly what awaits us there. Thank you for your support and for following our journey.