Day 3: Deep in the heart of Texas, the UIndy 500

Cows everywhere!

Another day in Falfurrias has passed us by and what a productive one it’s been! We started at the human rights center this morning to meet up with Eddie and discuss the day’s activities. Today was the day we would be going on to the Ranch to build all of the water stations that we fundraised for. We packed up all of the supplies we needed, headed out to the ranch, and was first met with a lot of cows! We saw them throughout the day everywhere we went, and while they were curious they kept their distance.



The team setting up a flag indicating a water station location


We then began building our first water station from scratch. It was slow going at first, but with each station we became more proficient and became comfortable with our individual roles during the process. After about six water stations we headed back to the human rights center to eat lunch and gather more supplies. We wasted no time getting back on the ranch and right back to work,  timing how fast we could build a water station as if we were part of a pit crew in our own version of the Indy 500.

Deputy Don stuck “Deep in the heart of Texas”

The second half of the day brought us to a section of the ranch that was too sandy for our vehicle, so Rachel and myself traveled with Eddie and Don in their trucks to put up a water station there while the rest of the crew searched another area. Setting up the water station went well but when we tried to leave Don’s truck got stuck in the loose sand! It took a bit of team work, some digging, a lot of sticks, and a tow strap but we were finally able to move out of the sand and back to the rest of our team.




Happy with our recoveries!

We then all loaded up in the trucks and drove to a less sandy area to set up our final water station. By the end of the day, we surpassed our goal of setting up ten water stations reaching a total of thirteen! We were also so excited to leave the Ranch with our arms full of bones from cow skeletons we found throughout the day.

Today we were able to experience a little bit of everything: we built water stations in the ever-present Texas heat, searched through sections of sandy soil, dealt with spiders, bees, chiggers, and ticks, and we saw, identified and collected quite a few (cow) bones. We are so proud of all we were able to achieve, but the reason for our work here has not been lost on us. The water stations we built today may save lives. The searches we conduct may help bring loved ones back to their families. Did we put in a lot of work today? Absolutely, but our work here is not finished. We’ve reached one goal but we’re only just getting started.

UIndy Beyond Borders team Day 3



We Can Work It Out

We are nearing the end of Day 2 of our trip and my-oh-my has this experience been so unique from my previous experiences in South Texas! Because our goals are so different than a normal field or lab season, we have had the wonderful opportunity to converse and work closely with some of the individuals who live, work, and breathe the immigration crisis every day. Through this work and all of these conversations, I have already learned an incredible amount about some of the nuances of what it is like to live and work in Brooks County from multiple perspectives in just the last two days, and I can’t imagine what the rest of the week has in store for us.

Preparing new water stations at the STHRC
Preparing new water stations at the STHRC

Yesterday began at the South Texas Human Rights Center (STHRC)where Eddie led a conversation about the work that he does every day and the obstacles he faces along the way. What really struck me during this conversation was how complex the social and political environment is in South Texas and just how many different organizations are involved in the humanitarian crisis here. Each of these organizations, such as Border Patrol, the Sheriff’s Department, and the STHRC, has their own goals and, therefore, their own perspective, complicating their ability to coordinate their efforts. Furthermore, each organization also has their own experience and areas of expertise, which can make it difficult to understand each other and work together. This point was made clear as I listened to Dr. Latham explain to Eddie the reasons behind the amount of time it takes to obtain DNA results from bone samples, as DNA is one of Dr. Latham’s areas of expertise and is something that Eddie likely has not had direct experience with. Until having this conversation with Eddie, I had not fully realized just how political the relationships between organizations can be and how difficult it can be to navigate those relationships. While listening to his words, I reminded myself that, although the UIndy team is here to volunteer for a week, Eddie’s passion for helping migrants drove him to come out of retirement to volunteer all of his time to this cause through the creation of the STHRC, and that he lives this crisis every day.

Eddie checking one of his water stations
Eddie checking one of his water stations

Our team has also had the opportunity to spend time and converse with “Deputy Don,” a local sheriff department Deputy who has been accompanying us. Yesterday, Don rode in the mini-van with some of us (and with his big gun) as we checked the water stations on various ranches in Brooks County, and filled the time in between each stop with stories of some of the experiences he has had searching for, rescuing, and recovering the remains of migrants in and around Falfurrias. As we drove along, Don pointed out very specific locations where he had discovered both living and deceased migrants, often associating each location with a detailed memory of the circumstances that surrounded each recovery. Some stories had a happy ending, where an individual was found on the brink of death and was saved; other stories were much more difficult to hear. Listening to his stories, I realized that Don could recall details about each and every recovery, an indication that this is not just a job for him. Similar to Eddie, Don lives with this humanitarian crisis every day and is working within his organization to not only do his job, but to help save the lives of those in peril and to help give a name back to those who have already perished.

"Deputy Don" and his big gun
“Deputy Don” and his big gun

As we were driving through the ranches both yesterday and today, I also happened to notice that Don knew the location of all of the water stations that Eddie had set up on these ranches, a fact that surprised me. This was obviously not Don’s first time visiting the water stations. To me, this was a great example of two very different organizations with different goals working together; the Sheriff’s department, run by law enforcement employees, and the STHRC, run by a very dedicated volunteer. Though their immediate goals, personal experience, and areas of expertise may differ greatly, and though those differences may sometimes cause friction, there was an obvious respect and a mutual understanding of the nature of the humanitarian crisis and the work that needs to be done to help solve it. I feel that I am only beginning to scratch the surface of understanding the complexity of the political and social environment that surrounds this humanitarian crisis, and hope that our continued work with both Don and Eddie this week will bring more insight into life as a humanitarian in Brooks County.

Checking water stations with Don
Checking water stations with Don


Day2: Footprints in the Sand

It’s 10:30am in South Texas and it is 77 degrees Fahrenheit with 87% humidity. It feels like 90 degrees. There is a slight cool breeze, which feels remarkable. Soon the sun will be straight overhead and it will be beating down on all who cross its path. The paths along the ranches are pure sand with weeds. You have two options: walk along the sand in the open, or walk through dense brush and leaves without knowing what is lurking below. There are snakes, scorpions, spiders, lizards, and sticker burrs below the forest floor. The brush is so dense it is impossible to get through without getting scratched. When you get to a fence, you have to maneuver yourself over it somehow, with barbed wire at the top. All fences are much taller than waist high. Getting over them requires bending the fence. Ranch owners don’t appreciate bent fences so they leave ladders. The ladders that are strategically placed along the fences aren’t used because coyotes tell the migrants that the ladders are booby-traps.  Water stations are not utilized even when they are essential  to living because the coyotes tell the migrants they are a trap. Overhead,  an aerostat looms watching for any body heat below.

Two wooden ladders along one segment of fencing on North La Copa Ranch
Two wooden ladders along one segment of fencing on North La Copa Ranch

There is little room for error in a migrant’s journey from Latin America to South Texas. Trouble is everywhere. Today we walked along the paths of North La Copa Ranch and experienced a very small portion of a migrant’s journey. Needless to say, it was tough. We walked for roughly 2 hours searching for any migrants, deceased or alive, and by the end of our walk, we were drenched in sweat with little water left in our water bottles. We were fortunate because we had water, protection from rattle snakes, good boots, good gloves, sunscreen, and hats. We knew what was ahead of us and behind us. We had Deputy Don and his huge gun to protect us. We were most certainly safe. We had very little to worry about along our walk.

Notice our gear and Deputy Don!
Notice our gear and Deputy Don!

I think each of us experienced different emotions as we were conducting our search this afternoon. It was an extremely powerful experience. In 2 hours, we walked less than 1 mile of North La Copa Ranch. We didn’t climb any fences, we could walk wherever our heart desired, and we had water and at the end of our walk, we knew we would have air conditioning and food. At the beginning of our walk, it was pleasant. The humidity was high but it didn’t feel very hot because the sun was behind clouds and there was a breeze. By the second hour of our walk, the sun was beating down on us and as a result, the temperature had risen dramatically. By the end of the day, it was 98 degrees Fahrenheit. The high temperature coupled with the extreme humidity is almost unbearable. Our walk today made me understand why so many migrants give up along their journey. We have talked a great deal with Deputy Don and Eddie on our trip so far, and they have both said that when a migrant gives up, they are done for. They will die. I tried to immerse myself in the landscape as we were walking. I tried to imagine what it would be like if I was a migrant traversing the land. It is certainly enough to totally break a human. The choices one must make along the way are difficult. The terrain is unforgiving. The environment doesn’t care if you give up or not. Walking through South Texas requires a great deal of hope and a whole lot of will.

A sandy path on North La Copa Ranch
A sandy path on     North La Copa   Ranch

After a morning and afternoon of difficult realizations and a strenuous search at La Copa Ranch, we spent a wonderful evening at La Mota Ranch with Peggy and Bill Clark (Lasater). They invited us to their beautiful home to swim in their pool and eat a delicious meal with them. We had so much fun swimming in their cool pool after a hot day and talking with them about the history of their ranch and their many interests. We also had the opportunity to see the turkeys and peacocks they have on their property! Who knew peacocks can fly?!

One of Peggy and Bill's peacocks up in a tree
One of Peggy and Bill’s peacocks up in a     tree

Today was a powerful day. I learned a ton today about myself and South Texas. But at the end of the day, we are all just footprints in the sand.