Category Archives: Human Rights, Migrant Death

Talking about the project itself

If You Can’t Fly…

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”  – Martin Luther King Jr.

After six years of working towards the identification and repatriation of unidentified migrants who perished in the Texas Borderlands I continue to learn and grow with each trip we take to work with colleagues on these missions.  One thing that struck me this trip was the observation that those who work on these issues on a continual basis looked a little more tired and a little more broken than usual. I think we all got into this naively believing that progress would come since everyone would see the value of dignity in life and in death.  But six years of not only fighting for the rights of those who can not speak for themselves, but also of continually having to prove that their lives are worthy are beginning to take a toll. We’ve never spoken about how tired we are, frustrated yeah,  but on multiple occasions this trip I had someone look me in the eye and say “I’m tired”.  I heard about the emotional impact this is having on individuals who have been nothing but duty driven in the past.  They fight everyday to locate the fallen or abandoned, to provide life saving water and medical aid, to exhume and identify and simply to extend dignity to a population deemed disposable and less than human. There’s no praise here, no rewards, just the satisfaction of knowing you are doing the right thing by extending the same treatment to others as you would want your own family to be treated.

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I am very proud of the emotional and professional growth of the student members of the Beyond Borders team. They performed hard, physical labor for up to 10 hours per day with no complaints. They were put into emotionally and politically charged situations and were able to navigate them with professionalism and poise. They learned valuable archeological skills and how to apply their education and training to mass disaster/ humanitarian situations. They supported each other as part of a team, formed relationships with peers and colleagues at Texas State University and modeled empathy during a time in which we need it desperately.  And while they know this mission is not about them, it does provide them with the practical and theoretical tools and prospective to work towards change within a system that is currently unable to address the needs at our southern border. It embodies our university motto of Education For Service.

January 2019 Beyond Borders Team
January 2019 Beyond Borders Team

My favorite moment of this mission was our trip to the Humanitarian Respite Center.  When we pulled up to the center we saw a group of children kicking a ball. When we entered the center two little girls ran up to us asking if my two year old could play and asked her name. While the students went on a tour and learned how the center supports the community and the migrant refugees I went outside to the a small play area with my daughter and the little girls. Soon there were about ten children running around, pushing a play shopping cart and sitting in a little play house. A few moms emerged carrying their babies to sit and watch their older children. They looked tired. There was pain in their eyes. But that changed every time they looked at their kids. You could see that whatever they left behind and the risks they took to get here was for their children. They had been released the previous night after 8 days in ICE detention. They said after being inside the cold detention rooms for over a week the kids just wanted to play outside. As I watched a group of beautiful, happy children who were more concerned about finding the perfect toy to make my daughter smile then about the trauma they suffered, all I could do is hope they receive the same kindness and acceptance once they leave the center later that day. All I could do is hope their smiles and resilience would remain intact after they face whatever awaits them here in the land of the free.

Humanitarian Respite Center
Humanitarian Respite Center

~KEL

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Changed

I vividly remember the first time I heard a presentation about Beyond Borders. It was a presentation about exhumations in Starr County, and I was engrossed by the idea of exhumation for a greater cause. One of the most captivating aspects of the University of Indianapolis’ program was their involvement with humanitarian applications of anthropology, something I had been longing to become involved with for many years. I heard stories about Falfurrias, TX and Sacred Heart Cemetery, and it soon became an intriguing place I was longing to go to.

Shortly after, I obtained a spot on the team for upcoming an season in 2018. It was in a

Last January during my first season with Beyond Borders
Last January during my first season with Beyond Border

different county, so our experience was vastly different than the teams’ who helped in Brooks and Starr Counties before us. We gained an incredible perspective on the legal system’s complications regarding migrant deaths and what happens when counties are overwhelmed by this crisis. However, we were not immersed in the community in the way that previous seasons had been because this particular cemetery was on private land. Eight months later, I presented on our experience. I gained so many skills that I could never have learned from a textbook or classroom, yet I was still completely blind to the magnitude of impact that this project would eventually have on my heart.

 

This January, a new team accompanied Dr. Latham to Falfurrias: the place where her work had initially started. So many of the townspeople were supportive of our work. One woman brought us oranges from her brother’s tree. img_6154Another brought an entire lunch for almost forty of us while we labored in the field one day. The county judge brought us hot pizza. Peggy and Bill Clark hosted all of us at their household for a home-cooked meal. These were incredibly thoughtful yet completely unnecessary acts of kindness. They spent their time and resources to do something nice for numerous people they had never met. I will never feel as though I fully expressed my gratitude.

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The Humanitarian Respite Center was kind enough to give a small tour of the facility.

Visiting the Humanitarian Respite Center was one of the most powerful parts of this trip. It was so personal and emotional to interact with migrants face-to-face. It was one small community of people who had just barely met each other (migrants, volunteers, full-time staff) and were all contributing to the success of the center. Later in the week when we searched for remains on a local ranch, we saw what it was like to walk the paths that these people had to take in order to get here. The images of families from the Respite Center were engraved in my memory as I stumbled across bones, clothing, identification cards, cell phones, and shoes that once belonged to someone. Whoever it was made it all the way to that point before their body gave in to the hardships of nature. I hope that none of my loved ones will ever go through something so horrifying.

Border policy is a complex topic. I cannot pretend that I know all the right answers for this country. It just doesn’t seem right that we should all be so removed and immune to the pain of others. If every person had the opportunity to spend time with the living migrants and the brave individuals and organizations who live with minimal pay as they fight for migrant lives on a daily basis, then perhaps we could discuss these matters with a different tone of voice. If other people truly witnessed the way the deceased are treated when they are not from this side of the border, I am sure it would leave an emotional impact that they could not get from a newspaper or broadcast. So many people never get to know these people at all, yet hold an opinion as to what kind of people they are.

I am truly grateful to have had the chance to return to Texas with Beyond Borders. It has changed me in ways that I never expected, and I appreciate all of the dedication and work that makes this project possible.

 

I hope to see you again soon, Texas. Best wishes while I’m away.

Sincerely,

Sammi

TBH

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Cheers

Tuesday, January 15, 2019: This week began a new, and in my case final semester at UIndy. It’s hard to believe that only three days ago the Beyond Borders team was still in Texas, and four days ago we were still up to our eyeballs in dirt. We accomplished all of the goals we set for ourselves this season, and I am so grateful that we were able to experience so many different aspects that can define a migrant’s journey. We were able to visit the border wall at McAllen, a tangible symbol to those on the other side that says, “We don’t want you here”.  We were able to visit a respite center where families seeking asylum are able to shower, eat, and rest after being detained for some time. We participated in search and recovery exercises with Border Patrol and the Sherriff’s office with goals of finding migrants in distress before they succumbed to the effects of dehydration and exposure, or recovering the remains of those who we were too late to help in life, but maybe could provide answers to their families with their death. We repaired and filled the waterstations that save countless lives, and we searched the cemetery for migrant burials of those that had perished on their journey through Brooks county and had been buried unidentified. I wish everyone could experience just one of these, so maybe they would come to see that the migrant journey is not easy nor safe, that these people are fleeing to a country with many people screaming that they are unwanted, and that these people understand the risks but take the journey anyway because they often have no other choice.

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In the midst of the current government shutdown, American citizens are stressed about what the future holds, yet we still have hope that our government will come to an agreement that will bring back a sense of normalcy to the country. The migrants fleeing their homes from poverty, gang-violence, extortion, and corrupt governments do not have that hope. Seeking a better life often means fleeing the only home they’ve known, and taking a chance that a journey north will provide opportunities for a better life – not a great life mind you, just a decent one. Most migrants understand that the journey may very well end in death, but many migrants choose this option because staying in place almost guarantees it. How can we fault people doing what they can to survive? How can a country built by immigrants sentence so many to death?img_6469

To be declared an American citizen, most of us were simply born here. We did not have to travel thousands of miles, take a test, pay thousands of dollars to an immigration lawyer to argue on our behalf…we didn’t have to do anything special really. In essence, the biggest factor of whether or not most of us are U.S. citizens is LUCK. I would argue that all American citizens are privileged to live here, and it appears that a lot of people are blinded when confronted by the plights of others. We know people are hurting, we know people are dying, but for some reason these people become “other” in a sense that they do not seem close enough, real enough even, to affect us. The Beyond Borders and Operation Identification initiatives are unique in that they allow every participant to see and acknowledge the current migrant crisis, and actually do something about it. The work we did at the cemetery showed us how the number of deaths overwhelmed the county, creating a situation where these remains were buried wherever they could fit. The work we continue to do season after season brings a different perspective on the migrant crisis that is not often portrayed in the media today. It reminds us, and hopefully our readers, that migrants are real people, with real families. The work we do gives names and faces back to the dead, and keeps their memory alive. I would like to thank everyone for supporting the Beyond Borders team this season, and reading along as we blogged about our trip. I hope you all were able to take something away from this just as I have, and you are reminded that there is good in the world, you may just have to take a journey of your own to find it.

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At the end of every day, the Beyond Borders team would open up some Mexican Cokes and cheers to a job well done. I am so proud of everything we were able to accomplish this season, and as this the last season I will participate in as an official Beyond Borders member, I would like to send out this final cheers to my fellow team members. Thank you all for a great trip filled with memories of dirt, roots, tick bites, and tamales; I’ll never forget it.

“Don’t stop me now, yes I’m havin’ a good time, I don’t want to stop at all”

– Angela

 

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