Category Archives: Human Rights, Migrant Death

Talking about the project itself

Rewind and Reflect

To think I am already writing my reflection post is wild. It feels like 2 seconds ago that I was anxious and scared about the trip, and now I am back in my apartment preparing for the upcoming semester. This trip has brought me memories and lessons I will keep and cherish for the rest of my life. 7 days flew by faster than I ever had expected. [Also, I’ll warn you. This is going to get pretty emotional.]

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Working water stations

I actually started writing this post while I was still in Texas on our last work day. I was feeling extremely discouraged, feeling like I hadn’t done enough, holding in tears as we made our final walk back to Gloria, knowing it would be the last time. We did not make any recoveries while in Texas this trip, and it feels like a double-edged sword. Working so hard with only pictures and animal remains to show, when that wasn’t our goal, doesn’t feel like success, but remembering that searching was our true objective brings it more into perspective. The work we did searching allowed us to learn a number of things like which areas were more active with migrant traffic and help Don cover areas that would’ve taken days to do alone. Our work on the water stations potentially saves a number of lives. I was able to learn so much about people’s perspectives, the politics surrounding this work, and how one’s background can influence how you see this work and why people do it.

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Searching in the brush

Comparing our skills from the first day to the last revealed an exponential change. By the end of the trip, we were able to navigate through thickets, brush, and complex MOTs (not technically defined as Mass of Trees but that is how I remember it) much faster than day one when it took us a few minutes even to find a route out. I learned a lot about footprints to where I could identify them and follow the direction they went. Being able to recognize a path through the brush made a significant difference while searching because we were quicker led to areas of migrant activity. We became compass pros and improved our line searching skills each and every day. Plus there was one rescue while we were there, so one young life saved.

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Don getting bothered by his favorite tourist

Meeting and getting to work with Don, Eddie, Melissa, Jason, Matt, Leo, and even Ray has left me with memories I will never forget. Thank you for searching with us, keeping us safe, and putting up with my antics for days. I have learned so much from each of you and am so thankful to have met y’all. I hope if I get this opportunity again that I will get to work with you all again. (I’ll try to keep the noises down next time)

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Evidence of recent migrant activity

Being back in my room writing this leaves me with such a mix of emotions. We discussed it briefly in our last decompression session before leaving Texas, and Dr. Latham told us a lot of these feelings are common and normal before I even expressed how I was feeling. I feel like I didn’t do enough. That 5 days wasn’t enough. I continuously think on the challenges we endured while just searching the brush, holes, hunters, wildlife, cacti ( many kinds but pencil cacti that I am still pulling the spines out of my legs), thickets, and so much more. We had issues with these all while fully prepared, good shoes, water, snacks, thick clothes, protection, and people to warn us. Others are doing this in the dark, with just the clothes on their back, and fresh water being a luxury. How am I back in my bed when others are still out there fighting for their lives? What can I do here that will actually help someone in real time? I feel useless. That is not the case though as much as I may feel it. I am in school to better myself so I really can make a change, with the authority and knowledge to do so as well. There are many ways we can help from here (& you from your home as well). My time fighting for others and trying to help them is not over. I am thankful for the support I have to push me to keep going and those who have experience in these fields and are willing to help guide me.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t change how I am still feeling. What I saw and learned in Texas influences every second of my day. I find myself questioning whether I am justified in doing mundane things, correcting myself when I speak and think certain things, how can I complain or be deserving of this wonderful, plentiful life I have when others are putting their lives on the line just for the possibility of a new life. For the possibility of a future that may not come. The future promised to those making the dangerous trek is not always delivered and often times wasn’t the true future intended. The image of clothing we saw, food we found, all on our searches flashes through my mind constantly. I have an immense sense of guilt as I go through my days when previously I wouldn’t have batted an eye. I am very thankful for the life I live, but after my experiences and lessons learned in Texas, I am thankful to have my team around me and those who have also gone on this trip to talk to them about these feelings and work through these new challenges with them.

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Dream Team

I am forever thankful to Dr. Latham for this lifechanging opportunity. I will be forever thankful to her for this, her kindness and patience along the way, and the team she chose as well. Having Olivia, Alex, and Tanya was truly the dream team, even when I’m sure we worked Dr. Latham’s last nerve quite a few times. I was terrified to leave and so anxious, as I said previously, but being with them was the best possible scenario for me. Everyone is so laid back, kind, and funny that it made the experience go so smoothly. This could’ve been a very different story if these people weren’t so genuinely amazing. I hope I will get to return in the future to pursue this work because along with learning so much, it strengthened my belief that this is the career and future I want to pursue and that I really can make a change.

UIndy, thank you for giving me this dream of an experience. My eyes have been opened in a multiplicity of ways, and my life has truly been impacted by this work and the inspiring people I got to work with.

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The incredible people we were so lucky to work with
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Texas skies

Til next time, treat others with kindness, pursue happiness, and radiate positivity.

Texas Tourist, Cajun Queen

Izzy

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Looking back, moving forward

We’ve been back for several days, but I still find myself regularly thinking about everything that happened in Texas. Even though we were only gone a week, it feels weird to be back. Being able to wake up in the morning without a mission and a day of hard work planned out feels wrong. Driving through Indy traffic and being surrounded by people and buildings and the bustle of a big city feels overwhelming. There was an aura of peace and silence in Falfurrias that is difficult to find here. While I wish our expertise wasn’t needed in Falfurrias, I want to be back in the field searching and helping in any way I can.

I grew immensely as a person over the week. I’ve been living a bubble of privilege, and, after everything I experienced over the week, I feel unsettled. Simply being born where I was born grants me so many freedoms and opportunities that people are willing to die for. It isn’t fair. A life is a life, and a border shouldn’t change that. While I know it is probably a pipe dream to wish for a world where borders don’t matter and people are seen as equals, I refuse to give up hope that it may one day be a reality. As long as there are people like Eddie, Don and the Remote Wildlands Search and Recovery Team, and Dr. Latham in the world, I choose to have hope.

Seeing the work they do and how they put their heart and soul into helping migrants makes me want to be a better person. To work towards a brighter future. And to be the best I can be in the field in order to help as many people as possible. This trip really solidified that this is the type of work I want to do. It’s easy to get wrapped up in classwork and academia, but actually applying what we’ve learned, and learning things that no classroom can provide, has made me a better person with a clearer view of the world we live in.

Even though the trip was physically and emotionally exhausting, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I feel like our team is bonded in a way that most people wouldn’t understand. Yes, we were friends before the trip, but, after spending so much time together, we’ve become more like family. We sass and nag, but we also laugh and really talk. We learned so much about each other that wouldn’t have come out in a different environment. We saw each other’s highs and lows, and, by the end of the week, we were functioning like a well-oiled machine in our searches. Words weren’t always needed; we worked as one unit. I know my teammates will go on to do great things, and I am excited to see where life takes each one of them.

I know I will forever treasure the memories I made on this trip. I hope I get to come back in the future to continue helping Don and Eddie with the amazing work they do in trying to make the world a better place.

Olivia

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I like bread and butter…

Today was our team’s last day in the field.  Despite sore legs and wandering minds, we were eager to get it started. Our schedule for the day consisted of working on water stations in the morning with Eddie followed by searching a new ranch site in the afternoon with Don.  At around 8am, we pulled up to the South Texas Human Rights Center (STHRC) where we were greeted by the sweet aroma of Eddie cooking up some of his world-famous menudo for breakfast. For those who don’t know, menudo is a traditional Mexican soup made with cow’s stomach lining (panza) and oxtail in a savory broth and red chili pepper base.  According to Eddie, menudo is the best hangover cure!  It was my first-time trying the dish and I was slightly hesitant but to my own surprise I really enjoyed it.  If anyone is interested in his recipe, feel free to contact me (just kidding, it’s a secret!)

Menudo, Breakfast of Champions!
Enjoying the Menudo!

Before leaving the STHRC, we had an early birthday celebration for Eddie who will be turning 74 tomorrow (well technically today since the post is on 1/12). Please send Eddie your birthday wishes! He also wanted me pass along that he is currently in market for a new truck. On to water station duty…

I had the honor of riding with Eddie as we headed to work on water stations.  During our drive, I got a comprehensive introduction into the layout of South Texas and the different landmarks migrants will regularly follow during their trek across them.  One interesting tidbit he mentioned was how the expansion of power and gas lines at these ranches have been a valuable guide for migrants in the past few years.  In addition, a recently developed water tank (tangue) on this ranch has greatly increased migrant traffic. Overall, our team refilled a total of eight water stations today along with the construction of a brand new one. While refilling water stations was a simple task, it was humbling and gratifying feeling to know that this could potentially help save someone’s life.

The UIndy Beyond Borders team refilling a water station; typically, each water station holds between 6 – 8 jugs at a time; The design of the water station has been modified over the years.

At around noon, we unfortunately had to say our final farewell to Eddie. Over the course of just a few days, I have learned so much from him. In particular, making changes in immigration policy requires knowing your community and engaging with it regularly. Furthermore, pushing with a smile is a valuable part of humanitarian work. I hope to be given the opportunity over the summer to further develop our relationship.

Ready to search.

Following water stations, we reconnected with Don and began our final search efforts.  The ranch site we were searching today was one in which a migrant was left in the brush in November.  GPS coordinates of the individual’s last location were called in, which gave us a starting point for where to begin.  A big positive as we began our search was that the weather was finally sunny unlike the previous days. However, the ranch environment was much different requiring our team to navigate through some undulated terrain with very thick grass and prickly bushes going up to our shoulders (Tip: Avoid pencil cactus at all cost!).  The harsh conditions resulted in some moderate scratches and maybe a fall or two (we won’t mention names) but fortunately everyone was okay. Over the course of the next several hours, we found numerous signs of migrant activity including shoe treads, backpacks, and clothes. Don pointed out to us that the shoe footprints were quite new (possibly from last night). In the end, we didn’t find anything more than that. A major takeaway from this experience was that even with exact coordinates of a migrant’s location, there are many internal and external factors that can influence a successful search and recovery. The unpredictability that is associated with this process is a very sobering realization.

Tread marks from boots; possible recent migrant activity

After a long week of searching, we enjoyed some glass bottle Coca Cola and Topo Chico to quench are thirst.  Overall, my time in Texas was one filled with lots of learning, laughs, heartfelt moments, and new friendships. The idea that we are leaving Falfurrias tomorrow leaves a bittersweet taste in my mouth. It went by too fast, and I feel like there is so much more I can learn and help with.

High five!
Olivia examining a backpack found in the brush

Author Note: The blog post title is related to our favorite field song of the day. We would like to shout out Brooks County Sheriff Don White for putting up with us in the field.  Thank you for all that you do! Your awesome sauce!

Alex

PS – Just because we are leaving doesn’t mean the blog is done! Stay tuned for the next week for more posts!

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