It’s been two days. Two days that I’ve been out of the Texas heat, three since I’ve walked through the harsh terrain many others still traverse. The difference is that their lives are dependent on how they cross it, how well they conserve water, how well they hide. My life was not dependent on these things. Throughout my journey across the Texas scrubland, I had plenty of access to water, I was covered head-to-toe in sunscreen and bug spray, I had food and air conditioning to look forward to, and I did not have to worry about being seen by others. Before this trip, I had read about the migrant crisis, studied it through books and documentaries. I thought I could understand what these people face on their journey to what they believe will be a better life. The truth is that no one can know what migrants face unless you’ve faced it yourself.
The work the Beyond Borders team did was difficult, something I expected. What I didn’t expect was to realize how little I actually knew about the conditions migrants face. We covered 23 miles of land but I cannot describe it in a way that sufficiently demonstrates the true nature of the environment. I can say it was hot, I can say we picked ticks off our bodies by the dozen, I can say that sand is really hard to walk in. None of these explanations truly cover what our team experienced. If I cannot explain the harshness of the environment as we experienced it, I cannot imagine the true nature of the journey as a migrant does. I can’t tell you how it feels to sleep under the cover of trees, how panic sets in when I’ve run out of water, how adrenaline kicks in when I hear movement that may be from another person. I did not have to worry about those things, but the migrants that make this journey do.
Since we’ve returned from Texas I find myself thinking of those who are still on those ranches, including the living and those that have perished along the way. I love being back home with my husband and my cats, but I know there are others separated from their families. I love sleeping in my own bed, though I know there are others trying to find a shady spot under a tree to sleep under. I’m able to go out to eat, go to the gym, to sit inside my house if I want to while others are missing, deceased, and/or unidentified. Why am I so lucky? Why am I not forced to make a decision to either remain in a place ravaged by conflict and poverty or to make a treacherous journey north that may very well cost me my life? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I feel with all of the luck I’ve had in my life that I have an obligation to help those that are not as privileged as I am. I only hope that the work the Beyond Borders team did will mean something, help someone, or at the very least give someone hope that there are people in the world who have not forgotten them.
Before this trip, we were asked what we hoped to gain from this experience. I wanted on-the-ground knowledge about what the crisis was really like. Though the Beyond Borders team have only experienced a fraction of what migrants face on their journey, I feel that I have learned so much. I additionally feel an added weight that accompanies this knowledge. The emotional baggage is something I would never give back and I fully claim it as my own. While out to dinner with Sister Pam she said something to the group that stuck with me: “You become different people when you put your feet in other people’s shoes…it changes you”. I am forever changed by people I have never met. I have a drive to learn even more about the migrant crisis and to provide humanitarian aid sometime again in the future. To those who do this work day in and day out, thank you.
On the first day we arrived at the South Texas Human Rights Center at the same time as Eddie and Deputy Don. Eddie unlocked the center and rearranged to get enough chairs at the table in the middle of the front room and then his phone rang. “I have to get this”, he said and walked to the back room. He was gone for just a few minutes. As he walked back into the front room he said “This is the year of the widow/widower maker. Every call is from a wife with her children in the US already or a husband with his children in the US already. They came first, are waiting on their spouse to arrive and lost contact.” He explained that this woman lost contact with her husband last week and his last known location was Brooks County. Eddie’s first step was to see if he had been detained and is being held somewhere. This man had not been apprehended so Eddie had to tell her that her husband is officially missing. “She is devastated”, he said. “I could tell she was devastated and it will just get worse as it sinks in. I told her she has to get more information before we can go search for him. We need to know more about his location.” Calls like these come in daily and are just part of Eddie’s many responsibilities as the Director of the South Texas Human Rights Center.
We discovered a backpack partially buried in the sand while on one of our searches. Inside were several items that had been protected from the environment because there were wrapped in plastic bags: socks, a hat and a blanket. Brooks County Sheriffs Department Deputy Don White carefully laid the pair of new socks on a tree branch saying “These are really nice. I’m going to put them here so someone who needs them will see them.” He repeated this for the other items in the bag. Deputy White volunteers to do this once a month with the Texas National guard. In addition to his duties as a Brooks County Deputy Sheriff (which is also volunteer as the county cannot pay for a large department) and his work in security and traffic that pays the bills, Don walks the brush in Brooks county looking for people in distress, human remains and personal items that might tell the story of where to find someone who is reported missing.
These two volunteer countless hours to finding people in distress, preventing deaths and saving lives. The Beyond Borders team extends its gratitude to them for educating us on these issues and allowing us to assist them in their efforts. We have learned so much in our short time there and experienced things that will change us forever. One of the easiest way you can contribute to this crisis is to educate yourself on the truth regarding what is happening at the US-Mexico border and bring awareness to this crisis.
13, 66, 79, 160, 23. These are so much more than random numbers. We have worked tirelessly over the past week and today was no different. Our last full day in Falfurrias began bright and early for two reasons. First, we wanted to try and beat the triple digit Texas heat, but we were also so anxious to get started as we knew this would be our last chance to get as much done as we possibly could. The team was incredibly efficient with our line searches this morning and covered approximately 5 miles of the ranch with the assistance of Don, Eddie, and a third volunteer.
After a quick lunch break we serviced 34 water stations by splitting the route between two groups. Haley and myself traveled with Eddie and were lucky enough to come across a rancher who was so kind and supportive of the work conducted by the South Texas Human Rights Center (STHRC), and it really speaks to the character of the people of Falfurrias.
For the evening we headed to McAllen to meet up with Sister Pam who has assisted previous field seasons but whom I had never met (all the wonderful things I had heard about her are absolutely true). We visited the border wall before going to Palenque Grill for dinner and live mariachi music. It was the perfect way to end our evening.
Our time in Texas has come to an end and I am so proud of all we were able to accomplish here. Our mission was to provide humanitarian aid to those who desperately need it, including both the living and the dead. Without the support of the ranch owners, the expertise of Deputy Don, the endless work Eddie performs on a daily basis, and encouragement from people like Sister Pam, our team would not have been successful. We are so humbled and extremely grateful to have such hardworking and generous people to work along side. There is so much work that still needs to be done. It can be overwhelming when we’re standing on an acre of land among thousands that still need to be searched, but with every inch of land covered, and with every water station built and filled we are making progress. 13, 66, 79, 160, 23: five numbers that mean so much. We installed 13 new water stations. We serviced 66 additional stations resulting in a total of 79 water stations that were filled with 160 gallons of water. We covered approximately 23 miles of rough terrain under the Texas sun by foot. For us these numbers represent lives saved by available drinking water, these are areas of land that have been narrowed down for future searches, recoveries and identifications that can bring families closure on missing loved ones. These numbers are proof that every small action can have a big impact. Thank you Texas, you have forever changed me and I hope to continue this humanitarian work in the future. Until next time!