Category Archives: Human Rights, Migrant Death

Talking about the project itself

Day 4: Search and Recovery…and Tamales

This morning we began our day as usual with hotel breakfast and raspberry emergen-c. But, although our start was the same, the rest of the day would be completely different than the previous days. Today was our first day of search and recovery operations.

At 7:45am we left the hotel and headed towards the South Texas Human Rights Center where we met up with Deputy Don White, Arianna, Selina, and few new additions to the usual that included Eddie Canales, a few students from Texas State University and a couple of media reporters. It was such a pleasure getting to meet Eddie for the first time knowing how dedicated he is to providing humanitarian aid along the border. He’s truly an inspiration.

After a quick pow-wow on the day’s plan of search and recovery , safety precautions and waiver signing, we all headed out in our vehicles to the ranch. Lucky for us, the weather was quite overcast and hadn’t yet reached 90 degrees. Once everyone was parked, gaiters on and bug-spray sprayed, we were off. While it took a few moments of strategizing, we all lined up side by side 5-10 feet away from each other — some with GPS trackers in pocket — and began the search.

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The ground was soft and sandy, sticker burrs plagued the way and grasshoppers jumped frequently with every foot that hit the ground. Some parts of the landscape were flat and other parts were full of thorned trees with spiders hanging from their branches. We searched for 3 hours (it honestly felt a lot longer).

During our search we encountered a lot of personal effects left behind by individuals following paths across the border; these included plastic water bottles, aluminum cans, clothes, purses, etc. This was really eye opening. It was a rough terrain and the weather was not forgiving, but we all knew that we would return to our own vehicles and, at the end of the night, sleep in air conditioned rooms in our own beds at night. This is not true of individuals such as those that left their clothes and water bottles behind.

Clothing left behind by border crossers
Clothing left behind by border crossers

 

After our relatively short time searching, we stopped for a snack, jumped in the back of Eddie’s truck and rode towards our parked vehicles where we started. From there, we returned back to the South Texas Human Rights Center to have a lunch of sandwiches, pickles and grapes and allow everyone some time to check themselves and each other for ticks. Luckily, the Beyond Borders team was tick free, for today at least! The same cannot be said for some of the others in our group. Finally, Dr. Latham, Eddie and Deputy Don had a conversation on tomorrow’s plans and we all headed out for the day.

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Because we finished our search fairly early today, we had some time to spare. After jumping in the hotel pool for a quick cool down and taking a shower to wash off the debris of the day, we decided to head out to McAllen. There, we got to see a glimpse of “the wall”, and it was…interesting. Border patrol was already set up in their truck when we got there and told us to not get too close to the wall, so we only stayed long enough to take some picture of the wall and destroyed ladders along its periphery.

"The Wall"
“The Wall”

Lastly, and possibly my favorite part of the day, we went to Delia’s for dinner and I do not exaggerate when I say that I got to eat the best tamales I’ve ever had! I can say with confidence that we all greatly enjoyed that meal after what felt like a really long day and here’s the proof:

Husks of 15+ tamales eaten by us
Husks of 15+ tamales eaten by us
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Day Three: Finishing the Route

We, again, started the day off with breakfast in the morning and then met Arianna and Selina at the South Texas Human Rights Center. Our plan for the day was to continue filling water stations along the route that we had started on day one. We headed out for the day knowing, for the most part, what it would consist of. We drove through a checkpoint and Deputy White informed Border Patrol that we were filling water stations, in hopes that we would not be suspected of human smuggling again. As we arrived at the first water station, we all stepped out of the vehicles and prepared to reinforce and refill the station. Over the past two days, refilling water stations had become systematic. We assessed the water station to see how many bottles of water needed replaced, if the barrel needed to be changed out, or if the barrel needed to be clamped to the nearby metal stake.

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We continued along the route for about an hour and a half before reaching the restaurant we had planned to eat lunch at. For lunch, we enjoyed beautifully prepared mexican style dishes. Some of which consisted of fresh vegetables and homemade flour tortillas. During lunch, we encountered the Texas Highway Patrol once again. Luckily, encountering them this time was a pleasant experience. Although, when we headed out to the next water station after lunch it looked like we were going to be pulled over once again. Arianna quickly put on her four-way lights to signal we were pulling over and that seemed to deter the patrol officer from stopping us.

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By two in the afternoon, the original route was completed. There was still more water to distribute so we went down a different route and refilled more stations. Down this road, we found barrels plastered with political statements as well as barrels that had been replenished with water from someone not associated with the South Texas Human Rights Center. These barrels expressed two very different sides of the community in Falfurrias and the surrounding area. It was reassuring to see that someone else in the community was actively assisting in similar efforts as those of the South Texas Human Rights Center. Also, down this road a pair of jeans hung on one of the ranch fences. They were a strong reminder of the presence of the undocumented border crossers within the brush. From here, we headed back to the South Texas Human Right’s Center. Everyone joined in an effort to unload the vehicles, then we discussed the plans for the next day’s searches.

Day 3 with Arianna & Selina
Day 3 with Arianna & Selina

 

Holley

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Day 2: Back At It

Our second day started as normal: waking up, eating breakfast at the hotel, and meeting Arianna at the South Texas Human Rights Center. Since we spent most of yesterday attending to water stations, we have gotten into a groove. My main role has been the note taker. At every station, I note which station we are at, how many good gallons of water were left, how many spoiled gallons were found, and how many we leave behind. We also note any evidence of human activity (trash, footprints, etc) or any repairs we perform.

Me taking notes while Arianna and Dr. Latham examine a water station.
Me taking notes while Arianna and Dr. Latham examine a water station.

At one point, we were about to head to a station on a path our rental van couldn’t reach. Dr. Latham parked the van on the side of the road and we all squeezed into the truck. We made the water drop fairly quickly, and started back. When we were almost back, we saw a Texas Highway Patrol car pulled up behind our van. Dr. Latham and Arianna got out of the truck to figure out what was happening. Apparently they had watched us all get into the truck and drive off, and waiting to see what we had in our van. They saw our water and cooler and thought we were partaking in either a pick-up or drop-off migrants. They ran our plates and even took Dr. Latham’s information. Thankfully, they believed us when we said we were simply filling water stations, and sent us on our way.

We finished the last of one of the routes we started yesterday, and headed back to the center. There, we met a group of engineering students from Trinity University who have been working to design new water stations for the center. These stations are solar powered and transmit a satellite signal of the weight of the barrel, so that they are able to tell how many gallons of water are in each station without someone having to drive all the way out to the station. They also have a drawer for first aid supplies and the ability to charge cell phones. They are still working out the kinks in the systems, but they currently have two prototypes on a route that they are field testing in a place they can get to often and easily.

Prototype water station.
Prototype water station.

While we were at the center, a familiy member of a missing person, Byron, came to join us. He has a cousin who went missing in Falfurrias, so he often comes to town from out of state to search, get updates,  and to help however he can. He went out with everyone after a quick lunch to the route where the field prototypes are. While the Trinity students tried to fix the glitches in their programming, the rest of us ran the route they were on and filled more water stations. At our last station, we were met by the ranch manager. He is familiar with both Arianna and our team, he stopped to chat and said he would fumigate near a specific station because there was a family of scorpions living there.

We finished the route, and the engineers fixed their programming issues, and we headed back to the center. Our role then was to be the trainees on how to build the new stations. Selina of the STHRC was filming, and the students taught Arianna and ourselves how to put one of the new stations together. This way, when there are different volunteers, Arianna can be sure to assemble them correctly. There are a lot of wires and different parts involved, so it’s more complicated than the normal ones. The hardest part was raising the flag pole: they are heavy, tall, and if any wires get pinched the whole station won’t work. Thankfully, we built two without problem!

After we were finished, we headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up for dinner. We drove to La Mota, where Peggy and Bill Clark live. Getting to visit them is my favorite part of our trips here. I’m not sure why, but something about their home is so inviting and warm that it makes it seem like you are just down the street from your own home, not hundreds of miles away.

Before dinner, we all sat and talked a little. Bill told us stories of when he was a big game hunter and how he has many skulls from his excursions. We sat down to dinner, and Peggy prayed over us and the food. While I am not religious, the genuine emotion of her prayer was moving. We then ate a wonderful dinner of brisket, rice, salad (with Peggy’s homemade dressing), grapefruit and avocado, and bread. It was so nice to have a home cooked meal after eating out for every meal since we’ve been here.

Our meal at La Mota.
Our meal at La Mota.

We cleaned up the plates, and had some ice cream for dessert. We left after a while, making sure we had enough time to debrief at the hotel and get things set for another early day tomorrow.

Day 2
Day 2

 

Sidney

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