All posts by lathamke

The Ripple Effect

There is no quick and easy “fix” to what is happening in the Texas Borderlands. The crisis occurring now is the result of decades of trade, immigration and political policies made and enforced by multiple countries.  It is no one person or one politician’s fault. The issues stretch far beyond our borders into Central and South America. They are fueled by poverty, violence, fear and hate. Yet, it’s easy if you are geographically, financially or socially separated from the border to ignore what is happening.  It’s easy to rationalize or to blame when it does not directly impact you.

A path formed by migrants

There are multiple goals to the humanitarian science missions of the Beyond Borders team, one of which is global citizenship. Global citizenship is an awareness and understanding of the wider world based on empowerment through education and action. Beyond Borders team members take an active role in working with others to promote a sense of common humanity and social responsibility. Part of that is experiencing and understanding the feelings of another person. These missions allow them to literally walk in another person’s shoes. Whether that be the migrant who was forced from their home on a dangerous journey, the human rights activist working towards policy change, the law enforcement officer giving everything to save the living and recover the dead, the rancher who is skeptical of strangers in their yard, the mother who has just realized her son is likely dead, the community member navigating a crisis they did not ask for or the college student unaware of their own place of privilege in society.

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Another goal is the practical application of forensic skills. Whether it’s the orienteering and observational skills associated with a search, the archeological technique required of an exhumation, or the osteology and mapping expertise entailed by a surface recovery. Many of these are skills the team members arrive with, having learned and honed them during forensic casework in the Midwest. However, in the Texas Borderlands they really see the importance of skills like communication and teamwork. When conducting a line search in thick brush it’s imperative that you not only keep eyes on your teammates but that you make sure they know exactly where you are and what you are doing. The success of the mission hinders on organization and efficiency. If a team member were to wander or get lost, the time it takes to find them takes away from the time devoted to the search. Teamwork not only involves working well together as a team but realizing that the mission is more important than your individual wants. While each member is eager to learn and get opportunities, it’s when you stop being short sighted about what you want and realize the team is only as strong as its weakest member that this is accomplished. Making sure everyone is learning or refining all the various skills and tasks, rather than doing what you like the best, makes for a very strong team.

(Sammi taking measurements for the map)

The experiences the team had this mission in Brooks County and the powerful reflections they have posted the last few days demonstrate this team has accomplished and learned so much. We built, repaired and/or filled approximately 70 miles of water stations, met with family members of the missing, cleared about 20 miles of brush during line searches, assisted local law enforcement and border patrol with recovery operations, and contributed to policy change. We accomplished our goal of volunteering our forensic skills towards a large scale migrant recovery and identification initiative. But, equally important, I watched four students grow in powerful ways over our time in Brooks County. They learned that in certain situations it is better to listen then speak, that personal minor discomforts are temporary and in no way comparable to what many are facing in the borderlands, that building meaningful relationships can be as important as skills in helping you achieve your goals, that looking out for you team can help you accomplish more than just looking out for your best interests, that you should not judge until you hear the whole story, that small efforts are what eventually bring about big changes and that walking in another’s shoes can be life changing.

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While we emphasize that this is about the crisis at our border and the lives it impacts, not about us. We must also recognize that change cannot happen unless there are people who will advocate for it. “Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.” You must chose whether those ripples work for the common good or continue to complicate the situation. I’ve witnessed both. But I feel confident this team will continue to strive for social justice while being cognizant of  the far reaching impacts of their actions, and will be the change they wish to see in the world.

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Thank you for following our journey this trip. If you wish to support any of the volunteers we mentioned in the blog please follow the hyperlinks to the appropriate pages: Beyond Borders Team, South Texas Human Rights Center or Remote Wildlands Search and Recovery (Don White).

Beyond Borders

~KEL

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Back to Indiana

The travel day to Falfurrias is always filled with excitement to experience Texas food and culture and an anxious desire to start the fieldwork. The travel day back to Indianapolis is usually different. The team is exhausted mentally and physically, they are ready to go home but they don’t want to leave and they have not had time to process the trip yet in the quiet and comfort of their own homes. All of which usually leaves team members feeling a little off. The travel day home is a transition from the long and demanding days in the field to their home lives in Indianapolis. I try to give them a final few Texas experiences before the team departs to Indy to keep their minds off the emotions they will experience leaving the field and the anxiety they will face thinking about classes starting tomorrow.

We spent the morning cleaning the minivan and packing everything up.  After leaving the hotel we went to Sacred Heart Cemetery. We walked through the cemetery looking at the sections where exhumations had taken place since 2013. In area 1, Wilmer’s marker is still alone in the middle of the vast open space. I made sure to clean up any trash around the marker and add some flowers for him.

Sacred Heart Cemetery
Sacred Heart Cemetery

Then we picked up breakfast at Whataburger. You can’t leave Texas without trying a breakfast taquito and honey butter chicken biscuit. Everyone slept off and on the drive to San Antonio, which shows just how exhausted they are. Our first stop was the Alamo. It’s always nice to tour the gardens around the mission. Then we move to the River Walk, which is just across the street. The weather was beautiful and it was a nice way to stretch our sore muscles. Our last stop before the airport was Moses Rose’s Hideout for some delicious brisket.

The Alamo
The Alamo
River Walk
River Walk
River Walk
River Walk
River Walk
River Walk

Despite severe weather warnings, our flights were only minimally delayed and we were back in our own beds by midnight. Over the next few days we will continue to post and reflect on our trip to Brooks County. Thank you for reading about our work and your support.

~KEL

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A path formed by migrants

“We are waking up in a more dangerous world.”

We are waking up in a more dangerous world.” is the phrase being repeated by global leaders on January 3, 2020.  This is forcing some to think about how military escalation might impact their personal and family safety in ways they hadn’t considered prior to the US killing of Iran’s top military general. But to others, concerns of personal and family safety are a daily and ongoing concern, and the new global instability is not as eminently dangerous as their immediate surroundings.

Many of the migrants fleeing their home countries have no choice. They are facing unimaginable violence and have little faith in the authorities that are supposed to be protecting them. Crimes go uninvestigated and unprosecuted when authorities are corrupt and controlled by criminal groups.  The Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are the deadliest countries outside an active war zone. Gangs extort individuals, recruit the young and kill those who cross them or don’t corporate with them. The gangs/cartels oversee drug sales and their violence can extend past locals to rival gangs. Another factor driving migration is violence against women. Sexual violence is a major factor forcing the migration of women and girls from Northern Triangle countries. Femicide, the targeted killing of a woman by a man due to her gender, is frequent and not often investigated when it occurs. Additionally, violence targeted at indigenous groups is forcing them to flee in large numbers.

That’s part of what makes our search missions so emotionally difficult. Not only are we experiencing firsthand the dangerous paths they are walking to escape knowing that “No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land”. But we are seeing what they are forced to suffer due to policies that limit or belittle asylum. While we know that there are no easy fixes to our immigration policies, it is also difficult to see what our polices are forcing other humans to do to escape for their own personal or family safety. It reinforces our place of privilege and challenges our perceptions when we walk these paths, encounter discarded belongings that were valued but too heavy to keep, see evidence of suffering and observe evidence of death.

Sunny skies and dense thickets
Sunny skies and dense thickets

Our mission over the next week will be to assist local organizations in Brooks County by volunteering our time and forensic expertise to replenish waters stations with the South Texas Human Rights Center and conduct search and recovery operations with Deputy White. Additionally, our mission will provide an intense and immersive educational experience for the team as they navigate conditions and emotions that will push them out of their comfort zones while conducting forensic science in humanitarian contexts.

Thank you for following our work and supporting our mission. Please check back daily for updates from the field.

~KEL

 

 

 

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