“The life of a migrant is sad”

The second half of our trip focused on search and recovery operations on local ranches. We were working with Eddie Canales, Arianna & Selina of the South Texas Human Rights Center and  Deputy White of the Brooks County Sheriff’s Department. The first day of searching we were joined by a few students from Texas State University. They were able to spend about three hours with us with the goal of collecting data on search coverage using GPS tracking systems. It was a nice opportunity for the UIndy students to interact with their peers in another program and to learn different approaches and techniques for ground searches. The second and third days we focused on a smaller ranch near where Byron’s cousin went missing. Our work became more personal as we searched with him and learned more of his story. He told us about his journey to political asylum in the US, the sadness of not being able to see his family and the pain of loosing his cousin. He summed it up in one simple yet heartbreaking sentence “The life of a migrant is sad.”  The pain, the fear, the heartbreak, that does not just go away once you enter the US. It is just transformed into something different yet just as burdensome and heavy.

There were many impactful moments and learning opportunities for the team during this second half of our mission. I asked them each to relay something they learned:

The last few days of our trip have been really impactful for me. Spending time for 3 days straight doing search and recovery on ranches only gave me a glimpse of what it’s like for migrants on a daily basis. But, being around Byron and hearing his story really put my experience into perspective. The three days we spent searching were tough, so to hear that Byron spent two and a half months in conditions similar to and even worse than what we experienced was just heartbreaking. And he went through all of that at the age I am now. There’s no way I could ever be able to handle going through an experience like Byron’s at 24 years old. — Alba

Alba
Alba

As we walked through the brush there were many pathways heading into the trees. As we followed these pathways in search of evidence or humanity, I realized we were walking the paths of migrants. Paths that were not clear, but instead filled with obstacles throughout the brush. It’s difficult to describe how walking these paths made me feel, but I can say I gained a new perspective and general awe of the migrants and their ambition. — Holley

Holley & Deputy White
Holley & Deputy White
While conducting our search and recovery operations, one thing I noticed was how easy it is to get turned around in the brush. Our team was equipped with compasses and safety whistles but I highly doubt migrants would have the same resources. For me, this highlights just how unforgiving the environments migrants find themselves in can be and therefore how reliant migrants are on coyotes. — Megan
Megan
Megan

During our time searching, it really hit me how harsh this environment truly is. There is sand, thorns, stickerburs, animals, tall grass, and more that migrants have to maneuver through, often without any idea of where they are heading. I would imagine this would be even more difficult in the dark, considering just how hard it is in the daylight. It’s incredible that anyone makes it through safely. — Sidney

Sidney
Sidney

~KEL

Final Thoughts

I’m back home in Indianapolis. I have washed all my field clothes, slept in my own bed, and have been drinking water all day to rehydrate my body. Once again I’m immersed in an environment where people could go a whole day without hearing any synonym for the words: migrant, border, detained, or missing. The dichotomy between the Midwest and south Texas is unreal.

When we first arrived in Texas the thing that struck me was its size. I know Texas is big and I have often heard my friends and family from Texas recount on its size. However, I was not prepared to be able to drive thirty minutes down a highway and still be in the same county or to be surrounded by ranches that encompass over 1,000 acres of land. The sheer magnitude of Texas left me baffled and helped me to better understand the difficult journey migrants have to make, even after crossing the US-Mexico border.

I am glad that our group got to conduct search and recovery operations as well as refill the South Texas Human Rights Center’s water stations because both projects offered different insights into a migrant’s journey. When we were refilling water stations, I could tell by the number of water jugs we had to replenish that migrants passing through needed the water. Their desperation for fluids became more apparent when I learned that many coyotes tell migrants that the water inside the water stations is poisonous. The fact so many people were willing to go against the advice of their coyote and utilize the water stations speaks to the desperate situation many individuals find themselves in.

By conducting the search and recovery operations, I gained perspective as to why so many migrants experience dehydration or become lost in Brooks County. As our whole group has recounted on this blog, the environment we were working in is harsh. In addition to avoiding border control officials, migrants must also bypass ranch personnel, wild animals, and harmful plants. Dr. Latham and I stumbled upon a rest area on our last day of searching and while the area offered some protection from the elements I cannot imagine being forced to spend days in that brush with fifteen other people.

All things considered, I have come to understand why the region we were working in is called “the corridor of death.” It’s heartbreaking but also understandable to learn that that nearly half of the migrant deaths in the Rio Grande Valley (34,000 square miles) occur in Brooks County, which makes up only 944 square miles. This data suggest that there is a crisis on the southern border for not only are detention centers and local officials overwhelmed but they also lack the resources in order to locate the alarmingly high number of individuals in Brooks County who are victims of trafficking and the unforgiving terrain.

I would like to thank all the amazing people who guided us during our week in Texas and who perform humanitarian work in Brooks County regularly. The dedication these individuals have is admirable as they put in countless hours of work and often utilize their own resources in order to save lives or locate the missing. Getting to talk and listen to the stories Eddie, Deputy Don White, Arianna, and Selina had to share was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Megan

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Enigma

After our last day, Eddie asked all of us what we had learned this trip. While a valid question, all of us found ourselves unable to formulate answers. This isn’t because we didn’t learn anything, but because what we have learned is hard to articulate. The things we have learned will stay with us well past our flight home, and well into our professional careers.

But I can say: I have learned that any person who choses to cross the border is braver than I am. There is no way I could survive crossing. I had a hard time making it through three hours in the brush, let alone three months. Seeing the strength in Byron and hearing his story was incredibly eye-opening.

I have learned that Falfurrias is the most enigmatic place I have ever encountered. The few days before we leave, I don’t want to leave the comfort of my home. I know what lies ahead: hard work, foreign beds, and emotionally draining situations. When we are there and working, I am counting down the days until I can return to the comfort of my home. Then, the last day, I cannot imagine leaving, going back to the comfort of my home, away from the hard work, foreign beds, and emotionally draining situations.

In Falfurrias, we have a purpose. We wake up every morning after debriefing the night before with a plan in our head. Even though the work we do is difficult, we are working towards something. In Indiana, we are always working — on cases, on lab upkeep, on school work. But after being in Falfurrias and interacting with the community, our works seems so privileged. It’s still important work, but it is privileged work. Even our work at Sacred Heart is privileged compared to everything those who are working to aid in the border crisis do every day.

I am so thankful that those who dedicate their life to the border crisis allow us, season after season, to come back and help them as much as we can. I am even more thankful that they are dedicating their lives to this crisis.

I am so thankful for Eddie, Arianna, and Selina of the South Texas Human Rights Center.

I am so thankful for Deputy Don White.

I am thankful for my team, for the opportunities I have been given, and for the conversations had.

I will continue to be thankful, and I will continue to learn and reflect.

 

Sidney