All posts by pattonm

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.


Day 5: The Search Continues

As always, when in Texas expect the unexpected.

We had expected today to be a continuation of Saturday. Indeed, today started off the same with all of us rolling out of bed, applying sunscreen and bug spray, then heading over to the hotel lobby to enjoy a protein filled breakfast.

However, today was destined to be a new adventure. The Texas State crew and some of the reporters had to return home so we were a smaller search team. In addition, we conducted search and recovery operations on a different ranch than the one we had been on Saturday. The reason we decided to search this new ranch is because it falls along the path Byron’s missing cousin is suspected to have taken. Bryon’s cousin has been missing for almost a year so we were all eager to search this new property with hopes of finding some evidence that could bring Byron closure.

We walked almost four miles searching for remains and evidence of recent human activity. Similar to yesterday, we encountered a variety of terrains including sand, brush, and open grassy areas. Variance in the landscape made conducting a systemic search of the area challenging, yet we were able to identify some personal effects likely belonging to migrants.

Team member in the brush

Today probably was the most emotionally eye-opening day of our trip so far. While searching in the brush, I came upon some footprints in the mud that looked fresh but were not made by any member of our search team. Deputy Sheriff White followed the footprints and concluded that two adults and a small child had been through the area less than 24 hours previously. Thinking about how physically draining today was on our whole team then imagining a small child pushing through the brush, past the snakes, feral pigs, ticks, and thorns, leaves me dumbfounded.

A footprint I found in the brush
A footprint I found in the brush

Tomorrow will be our last day searching for the May 2019 session. I’m incredibly proud of our team so far and know that we will be able to summon all the strength required to have a productive last day.

Day 5
Day 5


Day 1: Getting into the Swing of Things

At 7:45am, we all met in the lobby of the Best Western to start our day. In our matching UIndy Human Identification Center t-shirts we munched on bagels, sausage, pancakes, and fruit. We washed down our breakfast with Emergen-C to help ward off any illness during our trip. Then, we departed for the South Texas Human Rights Center.

Upon arriving at the South Texas Human Rights Center, we were greeted by Selena and Arianna, two passionate members of the human rights community. After Brooks County Deputy Sheriff Don White joined us and introductions were made, we began loading the center’s truck with 55 gallon barrels, water jugs, and tools we might need to repair water stations already in the field. We then divided up into our rental van and center’s truck and started off to the route we were scheduled to repair and fill.

On the side of this particular rural highway the South Texas Human Rights Center has installed 55 gallon blue barrels filled with water jugs and water bottles. The large barrels are labeled “Agua” and marked by tall flagpoles that help to highlight the barrels among the brush. Our task today was to refill and service the water stations along this highway and neighboring roadways. After a few stations everyone got into the groove of things. Sidney took notes about the condition of the barrels and how much water was in each container. Holley made sure each barrel’s lid was labeled with the station’s GPS coordinates and the phone number for the South Texas Human Rights Center. Alba and I worked to drill holes into the barrels and secure each barrel to a metal post with clamps. Everyone assisted with removing spoiled water from the barrels and placing new water jugs into the stations. All in all, our team repaired and refilled 14 water stations today!

Team members repairing a water station

A team member and Deputy Don White repairing a water station

Our day was filled with many firsts for everyone. For Holley, Alba, and myself today was the first time we had all worked to fix water stations. Even Dr. Latham (who has been bringing students down to Texas for years) enjoyed a few firsts including trying a new restaurant, The Burger Barn, and getting pulled over by Border Patrol for suspected human smuggling as we were frequently pulling over on the side of the highway.

Overall, today was a good way to start off our trip. I feel that I gained skills, like how to tighten a metal clamp, but I also learned a lot about the connections the members of this community have. I believe these skills and this knowledge has provided me with a good base so I can assist in any way I’m needed and from which I can continue to learn about the issues important to this community.

Day 1 group photo
Day 1