Category Archives: Human Rights, Migrant Death

Talking about the project itself

Day 3: Betwixt and Between

In his 1967 book The Forest of Symbols, Victor Turner wrote a chapter titled “Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites of Passage” (Turner 1967). Here, he describes a “liminal” period in which the subject of interest is in between different steps of their rite of passage, and are no longer held in the same regard as they were before their rite stated, but have not yet reached their post-rite status. While Turner was describing the Ndembu people in Zambia, I feel the idea of liminality can be aptly applied to the crisis at the border.


One could consider many stages of liminality in the physical and mental movement from one’s home country into the US, or any other county: in between their homeland and the border of the next, in between the border and their destination, in between their destination and freedom. This liminality is only compounded when an individual perishes in their in-between, which is what is happening here in Brooks County. Individuals are attempting to reach their destination, often with little or no contact to either their before (home) or after (destination). They are between, and their deaths force them into an added dimension of liminality: found or not found, identified or unidentified.  Thankfully, our work here in Falfurrias allows us to aid both the living as well as the deceased.


dsc_0015This morning, we met early at the
STHRC, loaded up a prototype water station built by Trinity University students and faculty, water, and supplies and headed to a local ranch. We replaced a regular water station with the prototype, hoping that the additional water it is able to hold will be of aid to those walking along the power lines attempting to
reach the interstate. On this ranch, we met a foreman whom none of us had met before. He lead us to the water station and helped us build the prototype. After talking more with Eddie, he offered to take water and fill the rest of the water stations on the ranch.  I
downloaded an app on his phone that would give him fairly accurate GPS coordinates to
send on either to Eddie or in case of emergency. He told us about his experiences providing
dsc_0090 aid to those crossing through the ranch, and truly seemed interested in helping any way he could. 

This is how our work is able to impact the living. Through Eddie’s guidance and with Deputy White and the foreman’s help, we got the prototype up and filled it with 14 gallons of water (most only hold 6). Aid in the form of water helps increase the chance of survival, and thus the movement from one phase to the next. 

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Our team with Eddie and Deputy White setting up the water station.

After we finished and made sure all of the electronic elements were set up, we continued on further into the ranch to conduct a line search. Deputy White had receiveddsc_0104 some coordinates of interest along a path, so we lined up as usual and did our search. We did not go far out into the brush, like yesterday, but mainly stayed on the path. This was largely due to the fact that the coordinates were right on the path, not off into the brush very far. We walked to and past the coordinates, then doubled back. We walked mostly in silence, our eyes trained on the shrubbery, looking for anything that our brains would perceive as bone before we did. 

Our searches, as well as our exhumations, are what makes our work able to impact the dead. By locating those who have perished, we start them on their way to identification, and thus out of their between. It is important to note that none of this would be possible without Eddie and the STHRC, or without Deputy White. They are the ones who continue the work once we are back to our “normal lives”.

After our fieldwork was finished for the day, we drove to McAllen, TX to speak to students from Emory University (visiting from Atlanta, GA). We listened to Eddie talk about his work and the STHRC, then to Dr. Latham talk about the history of our team’s involvement at the border. The students and their professors asked thoughtful questions, We finished our day by eating a lot of tamales at Delia’s. 

My hope is that our work continues to aid in the movement of individuals out of liminal phases, into something more definite. This applies both to those crossing the border, as well as those of us who are still figuring out what we are doing with our lives. I’m so thankful for this experience, and even though it’s my third trip, I learn something new everyday.

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Sidney 

 

Turner, V. (1967). The Forest of Symbols. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

 

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Day 2: Getting the Hang of It

We started our second day like we did our first: 7 am breakfast at the hotel (including our daily dose of vitamin C from our individual Emergen-C packets). Before heading out to the South Texas Human Rights Center, we had to make a necessary stop at the gas station for more drinking water since we went through over 3 gallons our first day. We reached the center at 7:50 am and waited for everyone to arrive.

We were particularly excited for this morning because joining us was a cadaver dog handler, Melissa and her dog Katana. She gave us a lot of information on her long background of dog handling as well as how she currently trains her dogs to locate bones. After everyone was ready (Deputy Sheriff White, Eddie, Melissa, Katana, and the Beyond Borders team), we headed out to the ranch for our first search of the trip. 

The team with Melissa and Katana
The team with Melissa and Katana

Our team has an organized plan to perform the searches, but, as mentioned in the previous post, flexibility is a key element to our success. While we didn’t know exactly where we were going to search or the specifics of the landscape, we were as prepared as we could be with our Permethrin treated field clothes, sunscreen, bugspray, snake gaiters, and plenty of water.  Our strategy for this specific search day was to follow along a pipeline in line search formation. With one person walking directly along the pipeline as an “anchor” point for everyone to reference, we spaced out in the brush and began our search. 

As we started walking, it seemed that our team was a little out of sync. With the new, tougher  environment and a first time search for some, it took us a few minutes to really get into the swing of things. But as we started learning from each other and keeping up with everyone’s rhythm, we quickly became accustomed to our new mission. Our team’s consideration for one another was the biggest contribution to our success today. We made sure nobody fell too far behind, that everyone stayed hydrated, and warned each other of any upcoming hazards. With a positive and supportive attitude, 4 miles with our team went by very quickly. 

There were a few notable things we encountered on our search today:

First of all, the terrain. This specific area of the ranch had a variety of flora of varying densities. While some parts were open spaces with some short grass, others we filled with thorned bushes and large trees that we had to maneuver through and, as you could imagine, it was not easy. Knowing the difficulty of walking through this environment with full gear and a lot of daylight, it was unfathomable what migrants experience when they travel these same areas with the bare minimum of necessities and, most likely, at night.

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Open area between the brush
Sammi, Tanya, Sidney and Dr. Latham in the brush
Sammi, Tanya, Sidney and Dr. Latham in the brush

We found some personal effects left behind by passing migrants. While most of what we found was quite old and scarce, this was important information to note because it told us that the paths we were walking were no longer as heavily trafficked as they have been in the past.

Sweater left behind
Sweater left behind
Worn backpack
Worn backpack

We also encountered some of the animals that live on the ranch.

Family of cows
Family of cows
Wild hog on the run
Wild hog on the run

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Additionally, something that caught our attention was a small squash-like vegetable that we found, growing by its lonesome, in the sand. We decided to take it with is and each try a bite of it back at the hotel; it was surprisingly sour and, after some research, we believe is called a Citron Melon.

Citron melon
Citron melon

By the end of our search, while the weather was in our favor (a high of 71 degrees and some cooling winds), we were quite exhausted. After we took off our walking gear, we jumped into our minivan and started driving out of the ranch, but not before stopping at each water station we saw to replenish the water.

 

Sheriff Deputy Don White and Tanya refilling a water station
Sheriff Deputy Don White and Tanya refilling a water station

Our day was not quite over, though. We had the pleasure of having dinner with Sister Pam, and what a meal it was. Not only was the food delicious — we were so famished that we didn’t even remember to take pictures of our food — but the company of Sister Pam was unmatched. She is the most wonderful, caring and inspirational person you could imagine. Even though it is just our second day, we all left our dinner with the motivation we all had to finish this trip strong from Sister Pam’s kind words of encouragement.

End of our Day 2 search
End of our Day 2 search

Alba

 

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Day 1: Off to a Good Start!

When a new team gets together each year for a Beyond Borders humanitarian trip, there is always a little bit of mystery! For instance:

  • What will the weather be like, or rather, how might mother nature surprise us today?
  • Will our team be cohesive and work efficiently together?
  • What unanticipated challenges will we face?

We do our best to prepare a schedule during our time here, but it is crucial that we remain flexible for a quick change of plans at any moment. This is my third field season, so I know how much the dynamics can vary. However, I knew we were off to a great start because everyone faced the unknown with positive attitudes and enthusiasm.

Sammi, Tanya, and Sidney replenishing a water station.
Sammi, Tanya, and Sidney replenishing a water station.

Today was our first workday in the field, so we got up early and ate a hearty hotel breakfast, packed lunches and field gear, and headed off to meet Eddie Canales at the South Texas Human Rights Center (STHRC). Of the many great things that this organization has developed and contributed since its founding, one of the most important aspects is constructing, repairing, and replenishing water stations in the South Texas borderlands. There is a massive checkpoint in Falfurrias, which is a major reason why Beyond Borders has returned to this town over the years to perform search and recoveries, exhumations, and volunteer services. However, I did not realize that there are smaller checkpoints located on many side roads that circumvent the main checkpoint until we ended up driving through one today. No matter what, there is no choice for migrants but to walk through acres of brushland with indistinguishable landmarks which can be fatal without adequate hydration.dsc_0025

Throughout the day, we serviced 60 miles and 3 counties worth of water stations, set up 5 brand-new stations, and distributed 88 gallons of fresh water into the bright-blue barrels. Most of them were completely empty and needed 6 new water jugs, which is amazing because it indicates they are being used. It was also incredible to see that random citizens had added individual water bottles, electrolyte solutions, and even an Arizona Iced Tea into the empty barrels to contribute to saving lives. It is highly encouraging to see that other community members perform these acts of kindness regardless of politically-charge circumstances.

In addition, it  was difficult to decide where exactly to place these water stations. Fortunately, Eddie has hawk-like vision and was able to spot clothing and debris left behind in shaded areas near the roads, which indicated migrant activity. This often instigated the placement of a new station, which we couldn’t have done without him knowing the terrain and signs.

Eddie holding an empty migrant's water bottle, painted black.
Eddie holding an empty migrant’s water bottle, painted black.

The extreme wildlife lived up to our expectations, as well. Fire ants, wolf-spiders, thorn bushes, mice, spider webs and nests, sticker burrs, bees, sand, heat, you name it! We experienced quite a lot today and will be diving in even deeper tomorrow. img_1746However, today we were pretty unstoppable (except for lunch, which was the most mouthwatering Mexican food I’ve had in a long time). You’d think we inhaled our food like a vacuum because not a single person left a scrap of food on their plate. Just trust me when I tell you we savored every second of it.

I am beyond proud of the way our team worked together today. We had all hands on deck and Tanya was an incredible addition to the team. She was attentive and enthusiastic and asked lots of questions. It reminded me of my first trip, and how new everything was to me. Tanya and Alba are fluent in Spanish, so they exercised their skills by writing messages on the insides of the barrel lids so migrants in distress can contact for help. It was great to see specific people utilize their strengths, but we all worked together and had a go at every job. Today was only my second time filling water stations in the last three years, so I gathered so much from this experience. Eddie is an animated storyteller with incredible passion for this work, so it was incredible to hear his anecdotes between work times. I wish you all could meet him.

I cannot wait to see what’s in store for us tomorrow! If its anything like today it will be tough, but nothing we can’t handle with proper preparation and resources.

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Day 1 Group Photo

Sammi

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