Category Archives: Community

Interaction with the community of Falfurrias

Traveling to Falfurrias

We’ve made it to Texas!  Starting with an early morning wake up, we all made it through security in Indianapolis with only two of our bags being checked (TSA questioned my bag full of quarters for laundry but after a quick check we were good to go). The rest of the trip went off without a hitch.  We flew from Indianapolis to Dallas, and then from there to San Antonio.  

The team in the Indianapolis Airport ready to head to Texas.  In the front row is Hannah, and behind her from left to right is Ella, Claire, Dr. Latham, and Chastidy.
In the airport ready to go!

For some of us this is our first time traveling to Texas, while others have been before and can give a little more insight into what we can look forward to in the next week.  I can tell we’re all excited to finally be on our way. After several weeks of discussing and reading about what we’ll be doing we’re all anxious to begin, and our cross-country journey was the first obstacle in our way.  We landed in San Antonio and after a very delicious lunch at Torchy’s Tacos took the 2 and a half hour drive to Falfurrias.  Honestly the hardest part of our drive was playing tetris to fit all of our luggage into the minivan.  We began our drive through San Antonio and into the countryside, passing Mexican restaurants, ranches, and oil refineries.  

Hannah, Claire, and Chastidy smile as they wait for their lunch in San Antonio
Just landed in Texas and ready for tacos!

As much as I’m struck by how different Texas is, it still feels eerily similar to my own home thousands of miles away.  Large expanses of trees, with tiny little towns sprinkled throughout and populated by family-owned restaurants, churches, and the occasional gas station.  The food the restaurants serve is different and the trees are a lot different here, but it still has the same feeling of small town America that is surprisingly similar to how I grew up.  My hometown is even about the same size as Falfurrias, it’s been really interesting to really see first person just how much variety can exist in one country.  Driving into Falfurrias felt climactic.  We’ve been preparing so much and it feels surreal that we are actually here now.  Deputy Don White joined us for a preliminary meeting and dinner at Whataburger, where we talked a little more about the structure of Falfurrias and the work we’ll be doing this week.  

Deputy Don White, Hannah, Ella, Chastidy, and Claire sit in a circle discussing what they should expect out in the field.
Deputy Don White explains to the team what they should expect and what to look out for

It was at this point that I realized that we begin working tomorrow, and while that excites me it also scares me a little bit.  So, after a late night run to the grocery store for food and supplies, and then another tour of Falfurrias as we searched different gas stations for a Styrofoam cooler, we’ve settled down for the night to prep for our first day.  Prepping for our first day includes double checking the batteries in the camera, making sure the walkie talkies work, and triple checking our field bags to make sure we haven’t forgotten anything that could be important out in the field.  I think the worst part of a new experience is the anticipation beforehand, so I’m ready to start the day tomorrow.


Looking Back

We’ve been home for a couple of days now, but I feel restless. I want to go back and continue working. Knowing there are migrants needing to be identified and families anxiously awaiting news on their loved ones while I sit on my couch and binge Netflix doesn’t seem right. While I’ve recovered physically, my emotions are still all over the place. It is hard to rationalize why society has gotten to a point where we treat and judge people based on nothing beyond the fact they were not born in the same place as us.

Team members taking measurements at the cemetery

This Beyond Borders trip was vastly different from the previous ones I have been on. There was a different emotional toll than that experienced when we search ranchland or fill water stations. Not to say that either of those activities is easy or enjoyable, but seeing the bodies of migrants tossed in hastily dug holes like trash, and oftentimes with actual trash, hits in a different way. It doesn’t take much to have even the smallest bit of compassion or human decency, yet these migrants are looked down upon and treated appallingly for the simple reason of being born in a different country or to circumstances beyond their control. It frustrates and saddens me and makes me question a lot of things.

Team members digging at the cemetery

It is easy to villainize one person or another for the crisis, but, unfortunately, there is no easy solution and there is no single person to blame for what is occurring. There are many differing opinions and political discourses surrounding immigration and the US/Mexico border, but that will not stop migrants from crossing, with some perishing along the way. Funeral homes and cemetery workers are overwhelmed by the sheer number of migrants they end up in charge of. They are doing their best, but, at some point, they start to become desensitized to the atrocities they are seeing. This does not excuse what is happening to these migrants, but it is important to realize that this is a multi-faceted, complex problem with no simple solution.

Two team members removing dirt from a burial

As long as there are people such as Dr. Latham, Eddie, Don, Dr. Spradley and the Operation Identification team, and many other individuals and organizations who are taking the initiative and trying their best to give migrants and their families closure, I choose to believe that compassion and decency still exist. I wish we were never even needed down in Eagle Pass, but I am glad we were able to aid in the excavations and, hopefully, help provide some of the dignity and compassion these migrants, and all humans, are worthy of.

Working on this project with this team was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of it. After my experiences with Beyond Borders, I am only more determined to use my education and abilities in humanitarian settings in order to help those who have been wronged in any way I can. I’m sad that this is most likely my last trip with Beyond Borders, but I’ve cherished every moment.

~ Olivia

Jan 2023 Team

Day 5: Digging and Don

Team members removing dirt from a burial
Jordan and I excavating while Izzy and Kaitlyn look on

We woke up this morning sore from all of the work we did yesterday but ready to get back to it. We ate breakfast at the hotel, where Izzy had an awesome Texas-shaped waffle. After loading all of our gear, we hopped into Monica (who is not smelling too great after our long work days in the heat) and headed off to the cemetery.

We began working on the burial we had started to expose at the end of the day yesterday. This involved more use of the mattock to bring down a wall and removing larger chunks of dirt as we went. Somehow, Izzy and Jordan managed to hit rocks with the mattock hard enough that there were sparks flying. The weather was pretty cool in the morning, so we got to take longer turns, and the wall came down pretty quickly. Deputy Don White was standing by to provide his (sassy) advice and expertise and answer all of my random questions about his life while helping dump our buckets of dirt. Our team has really found our groove, and we worked very quickly and efficiently. Both Texas State and our team were able to remove individuals before lunch.

Our lunch break was extended for an extremely important visitor to the site. A family member of one of the identified individuals who had been removed on Texas State’s previous excavation in November 2022 came to see where their loved one had been laid to rest. It was an emotional time for everyone. I know nothing can bring their loved one back, but I hope they were able to find what they were searching for from their visit. For me, seeing their reaction helped reinforce how important the work we are doing here is. These are real people and real families that have experienced great tragedy. I wish the work we are doing wasn’t needed and that these families were still whole, but, hopefully, we can help them find at least a little bit of closure.

The backhoe working at the cemetery

When their visit was over, it was time for the backhoe to fill in the excavated graves and remove several feet of dirt from our next areas, so we didn’t have to spend hours manually digging through the rock-hard, sun-bleached top layer of dirt. When they were done, our team jumped in and got to work excavating the next burial. By this time, it was pretty hot and sunny, so we started up our timer and worked for 3-4 minutes in teams of two before switching. At least, we were only supposed to work for 3-4 minutes, but we always managed to finagle an extra minute or two because we didn’t want to stop.

Team members mapping at the cemetery
Mapping in our points

We finished up for the day, took some quick showers, and went out for a delicious dinner at Yopo’s. I’m sad that tomorrow will be our last day working in Eagle Pass, but we have done a lot this week to be proud of. Our team has really learned to work well together. We check in on each other consistently to make sure everyone is taking breaks when needed and drinking enough water. This week has allowed us to learn valuable skills as well as grow closer as a team. We’ve come to expect the unexpected and be flexible, and the experiences we’ve had and the memories we’ve made are ones I will carry with me.

Selfie of team members taken on Dr. Latham's unattended phone
A surprise photo left on Dr. Latham’s (unattended) phone
Team members on day 5

~ Olivia