Category Archives: Reflections

Reflections on how we feel and how the mission is changing us

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.

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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

Megan

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Day 4: Search and Recovery…and Tamales

This morning we began our day as usual with hotel breakfast and raspberry emergen-c. But, although our start was the same, the rest of the day would be completely different than the previous days. Today was our first day of search and recovery operations.

At 7:45am we left the hotel and headed towards the South Texas Human Rights Center where we met up with Deputy Don White, Arianna, Selina, and few new additions to the usual that included Eddie Canales, a few students from Texas State University and a couple of media reporters. It was such a pleasure getting to meet Eddie for the first time knowing how dedicated he is to providing humanitarian aid along the border. He’s truly an inspiration.

After a quick pow-wow on the day’s plan of search and recovery , safety precautions and waiver signing, we all headed out in our vehicles to the ranch. Lucky for us, the weather was quite overcast and hadn’t yet reached 90 degrees. Once everyone was parked, gaiters on and bug-spray sprayed, we were off. While it took a few moments of strategizing, we all lined up side by side 5-10 feet away from each other — some with GPS trackers in pocket — and began the search.

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The ground was soft and sandy, sticker burrs plagued the way and grasshoppers jumped frequently with every foot that hit the ground. Some parts of the landscape were flat and other parts were full of thorned trees with spiders hanging from their branches. We searched for 3 hours (it honestly felt a lot longer).

During our search we encountered a lot of personal effects left behind by individuals following paths across the border; these included plastic water bottles, aluminum cans, clothes, purses, etc. This was really eye opening. It was a rough terrain and the weather was not forgiving, but we all knew that we would return to our own vehicles and, at the end of the night, sleep in air conditioned rooms in our own beds at night. This is not true of individuals such as those that left their clothes and water bottles behind.

Clothing left behind by border crossers
Clothing left behind by border crossers

 

After our relatively short time searching, we stopped for a snack, jumped in the back of Eddie’s truck and rode towards our parked vehicles where we started. From there, we returned back to the South Texas Human Rights Center to have a lunch of sandwiches, pickles and grapes and allow everyone some time to check themselves and each other for ticks. Luckily, the Beyond Borders team was tick free, for today at least! The same cannot be said for some of the others in our group. Finally, Dr. Latham, Eddie and Deputy Don had a conversation on tomorrow’s plans and we all headed out for the day.

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Because we finished our search fairly early today, we had some time to spare. After jumping in the hotel pool for a quick cool down and taking a shower to wash off the debris of the day, we decided to head out to McAllen. There, we got to see a glimpse of “the wall”, and it was…interesting. Border patrol was already set up in their truck when we got there and told us to not get too close to the wall, so we only stayed long enough to take some picture of the wall and destroyed ladders along its periphery.

"The Wall"
“The Wall”

Lastly, and possibly my favorite part of the day, we went to Delia’s for dinner and I do not exaggerate when I say that I got to eat the best tamales I’ve ever had! I can say with confidence that we all greatly enjoyed that meal after what felt like a really long day and here’s the proof:

Husks of 15+ tamales eaten by us
Husks of 15+ tamales eaten by us
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Agua

The first three days of our trip were spent with Arianna and Selina of the South Texas Human Rights Center. Our goal was to assist them in the repair and filling of water stations. Over the last three days we attended about 40 stations in three different counties. We were also able to see the new protocol stations designed by students at Trinity University. These stations are solar powered, have a place to charge cell phones, transmits the weight of the water (so the STHRC knows when to go fill them), store medical supplies and hold more water then the traditional stations.  Spending so much time with them also allowed us to learn more about what they do through the STHRC and with the Missing Migrant Hotline. We saw the time and care they give to each case and some of the steps they are able to take to assist the families of the missing.

Arianna & Selina
Arianna & Selina

Also with us was Deputy Sheriff Don White of the Brooks County Sheriff’s Department. He volunteers his time to search the remote ranch lands of Brooks County for migrants in distress or for the remains of those that have perished. For the last three days he was also volunteering with us to work on the water stations and provide security.  He is the only person who conducts searches like this on a regular basis and has saved countless lives and recovered the remains of many migrants that might not have been found otherwise.

Deputy Sheriff White
Deputy Sheriff White

These three days gave us just a glimpse of the many people that are volunteering their time and resources to address the crisis at the US-Mexico border. We spent time with some prominent community members and got to hear stories about growing up in the area and some local history.  We also met Byron, whose cousin went missing on a ranch near Falfurrias.  He frequently drives in from out of state for updates and to make sure there’s progress on his cousin’s case.  He also volunteers while in town and went with us to work on water stations. In just three days the team has been exposed to many aspects of border life and many different angles of the migrant crisis. I asked them each to relay an imapctful moment or observation:

One of the most impactful observations that I had these 3 days of filling water stations was at one of the ranches. Seeing all of the damage to the fences made from people trying to get over them is something I’ll never forget; that’s when reality started to hit about how many people are putting their lives in danger just to be in this country.  — Alba

The one prototype station with the tarp that had so many scorpions and spiders under the tarp was very eye opening. While we thought it hazardous to even be near the station, anyone crossing through the area wouldn’t even think twice to reach their hands in for some water. — Alba

Alba
Alba

So far I have learned both how kind people can be and how unkind they can be. A volunteer fills the stations on 1017 on his own time on his way to/from work. On the other hand, people vandalize the stations with hateful messages, just because they can. — Sidney

Sidney
Sidney

Being sick during this trip has made me realize how difficult it must be to make such an extensive journey while being ill. I found myself confusing symptoms of my cold with symptoms of dehydration, which could be detrimental to an individual’s health in the environment of Texas if they did not have people with them who recognized the differences or did not have enough water to combat the dehydration.  — Holley

Holley & Deputy White
Holley
One thing that I have noticed so far on this trip and was not expecting is the prevelance of border control officials. It seems that every few miles officers are stationed on the side of the highway and every car, van, and semi truck has been deemed a suspicious vehicle at some time. Witnessing the vigilance of the border control officials puts into perspective just how difficult the journey north is for migrants. I can only imagine walking through the brush for miles to avoid a checkpoint only to come upon a border control agent by chance. This constant risk speaks to the drive migrants must have to reach America and start a new life.  — Megan
Megan
Megan

~KEL

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