All posts by lathamke

Ways to Support the Groups You are Reading About hat Volunteer to Search for and Rescue Missing Migrants

This work takes a toll: it is not only physically and mentally exhausting but equipment does not last long in this environment. All these individuals and groups consist of volunteers who dedicate their own time and resources to searching for those in distress, locating and recovering the dead and/or providing life saving essentials like water. Brooks County faced near record breaking numbers of deaths and rescues this past year, with 119 bodies recovered from remote ranchlands in 2021. That number represents the number of recorded deaths, meaning those bodies were located and recovered. There are likely many more. That’s why search efforts are so important. Each rescue and jug of water lowers the death count. It’s important yet difficult work that these groups do year round. You’ve read a little about them in our blog and we’d like to provide you with some more information on these organizations and information on how to support their efforts.

Remote Wildlands Search and Recovery
“Remote Wildlands Search and Recovery searches remote areas of ranches primarily in Brooks County Texas. The harsh weather, soft sand, featureless terrain, and thick brush make the traverse difficult at best. This is where we operate” The group consists of experts in search and rescue, tracking and medical aide. You can support their team by donating here.

They taught us so much about searching the brush. These are skills that we not only used here in Texas but will take back with us to use when we do searches in the Midwest. The knowledge on this team is so vast and we appreciate everything they shared with us. We also enjoyed getting to know everyone and hear their personal stories of what motivates them to do this tough work. It was clear that everyone was very passionate about performing rescues and saving lives.

Members of Remote Wildlands Search and Recovery: Jason, Leo & Don

South Texas Human Rights Center
“The South Texas Human Rights Center is a community based organization in Falfurrias, TX dedicated to the promotion, protection, defense and exercise of human rights and dignity in South Texas. Our mission is to end death and suffering on the Texas/Mexico border through community initiatives.” You can support their team by donating here.

The impact of the South Texas Human Rights Center is far reaching. Not only are they passionate about saving lives by providing water to migrants in need and searching for and identifying those who have perished in the Texas Borderlands but they also participate in large scale awareness campaigns and policy change. Eddie’s passion for human rights is infectious and the team learned a lot from him. Most importantly they learned that education, awareness and action can be just as profound as the physical work in Brooks County to work towards change.

Eddie Canales of the South Texas Human Rights Center working with Beyond Borders team members Izzy & Tanya

South Texas Mounted Search and Rescue
“South Texas SAR is a 501c3 non-profit that consist of Veterans and Supporters with certified mounted search and rescue horses and detection canines.  Though we are based in South Texas our mission is to look for people lost or missing nationally and internationally (K9) with law enforcement, forensics and Search and Rescue organizations.” You can support their team by donating here.

Melissa taught us a lot about how to properly train search dogs. Her experience with canine handling began with her time in the military and her knowledge and ability is clear from the moment you meet her. She never laughed at our questions or got tired of answering them. Not only is she skilled but she is passionate about her work here in the Texas borderlands and in missing persons cases across the US. We enjoyed getting to know her and see her dogs in action.

Members of South Texas Mounted Search and Rescue: Melissa & Oakley

Beyond Borders
The University of Indianapolis Beyond Borders team is a humanitarian forensic science team that volunteers their skills to counties in need due to lack of resources or mass disaster situations. The team is directed by board certified forensic anthropologist, Dr. Krista Latham who has 20 years of forensic experience in the US and internationally. Team members consist of University of Indianapolis students who have been formally trained in forensic techniques in laboratory and field settings. You can support this team by donating here.

Members of the Jan 2022 Beyond Borders Team

Thank you so much for following our recent journey. This will be the last post until we start to get ready for our May mission to the Texas Borderlands.


Missing in Brooks County

If any of our readers are interested in learning more about the challenges faced by the families of the missing and the people who work collaboratively towards locating, finding and identifying individuals who has perished in the Texas borderlands, we recommend the documentary Missing in Brooks County.

“Two families search for their loved ones who went missing in the fields of Brooks County, Texas after crossing from Mexico and find a sobering truth: the deadliest part of the journey is far from the border. “

PBS broadcast premier on January 31, 2022, or visit their site for updated information on upcoming screenings.


Yin and Yang

In ancient Chinese philosophy, Yin and Yang describes how obviously opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. I prepared my team for the different approaches taken by the different teams we would encounter on the border. They have different ways of achieving the common proximate goal of saving lives. But during my decade of work in the Texas Borderlands I never head it said so deliberately so many times — there is a human rights side and a law enforcement side. While these sides do not always agree on the best path, they do agree on the ultimate outcome of dignity in life and dignity in death. The Beyond Borders Team assists organizations in both the Yin and the Yang when we are in South Texas. We respect and appreciate anyone who volunteers their time to this work. It’s physically and emotionally exhausting. Everyone we have met has invested a lot of their own time and money into preventing deaths and identifying the dead. So the paths and ultimate long term goals might be different, but these forces need each other as they search the brush and work to save lives. Just as the night needs the day, big is only meaningful when compared to small, and order is meaningless without disorder.

Some of the Yin and the Yang of Humanitarian Work in the Texas Borderlands

Most of the year I am geographically removed from an issue I care deeply about. Therefore, my role is less applied to searching the brush and recovering the dead and more dedicated to providing opportunities for the next generation to tackle issues of social justice and global citizenship. While this generation of young people is much more tolerant different races and cultures, they are also tend to be more isolated due to internet and social media technologies. Teaching empathy in a way that literally places you in the shoes and pathway of another, teaching awareness of global issues that dehumanizes and marginalizes others and how that impacts us all, teaching how every person is connected to every other person on this planet and teaching how action can come in big and small packages while all having the same impact are not things that come just from reading a book. I have to remind myself that these issues stretch longer and deeper than Brooks County and there are many ways we can all contribute to positive change. The 26 current members and alums of the Beyond Borders Team are out there making a difference in their local and global communities. They are continuing the work to bring awareness and understanding of the connections we all share in the wider world and using that worldmindedness to advocate for basic human rights.

I’m so proud of the team members from this trip for many reasons! Not only are they knowledgeable in the practical applications of forensic casework but they also grew in their skills, their awareness, their motivation and their aspirations while in the Texas Borderlands. At the same time their humor, care for each other and support all contributed to their success in the field. We worked hard and covered a lot of ground while we were there. Their experiences will motivate them to stand up for human rights and work for change long after they physically leave the borderlands.

That branch is higher off the ground than it looks! Jan 2022 Beyond Borders Team

I also need to mention that our team is so grateful to our supporters: the University of Indianapolis President & Provost provide financial support, our donors to the Beyond Borders Team, our families, our colleagues in south Texas who not only do this on a regular basis but changed their schedules to host us and a special thanks to all of you that have read and shared the blog ! I hope you know how much of an impact you have on so many people! Thank you!

~Dr. Latham