Category Archives: Human Rights, Migrant Death

Talking about the project itself

“We are waking up in a more dangerous world.”

We are waking up in a more dangerous world.” is the phrase being repeated by global leaders on January 3, 2020.  This is forcing some to think about how military escalation might impact their personal and family safety in ways they hadn’t considered prior to the US killing of Iran’s top military general. But to others, concerns of personal and family safety are a daily and ongoing concern, and the new global instability is not as eminently dangerous as their immediate surroundings.

Many of the migrants fleeing their home countries have no choice. They are facing unimaginable violence and have little faith in the authorities that are supposed to be protecting them. Crimes go uninvestigated and unprosecuted when authorities are corrupt and controlled by criminal groups.  The Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are the deadliest countries outside an active war zone. Gangs extort individuals, recruit the young and kill those who cross them or don’t corporate with them. The gangs/cartels oversee drug sales and their violence can extend past locals to rival gangs. Another factor driving migration is violence against women. Sexual violence is a major factor forcing the migration of women and girls from Northern Triangle countries. Femicide, the targeted killing of a woman by a man due to her gender, is frequent and not often investigated when it occurs. Additionally, violence targeted at indigenous groups is forcing them to flee in large numbers.

That’s part of what makes our search missions so emotionally difficult. Not only are we experiencing firsthand the dangerous paths they are walking to escape knowing that “No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land”. But we are seeing what they are forced to suffer due to policies that limit or belittle asylum. While we know that there are no easy fixes to our immigration policies, it is also difficult to see what our polices are forcing other humans to do to escape for their own personal or family safety. It reinforces our place of privilege and challenges our perceptions when we walk these paths, encounter discarded belongings that were valued but too heavy to keep, see evidence of suffering and observe evidence of death.

Sunny skies and dense thickets
Sunny skies and dense thickets

Our mission over the next week will be to assist local organizations in Brooks County by volunteering our time and forensic expertise to replenish waters stations with the South Texas Human Rights Center and conduct search and recovery operations with Deputy White. Additionally, our mission will provide an intense and immersive educational experience for the team as they navigate conditions and emotions that will push them out of their comfort zones while conducting forensic science in humanitarian contexts.

Thank you for following our work and supporting our mission. Please check back daily for updates from the field.






“You and your community together are the answer”

This will be my third trip with Beyond Borders, and the pre-trip reflection has only gotten harder. It is emotionally conflicting to leave one season of fieldwork and return to the comfort of my daily routine. To some extent, being halfway across the country from the border crisis allows me to turn off a switch as I focus on accomplishing smaller goals that are more accessible. However, there are multiple distinguishable times throughout the year that I get flashbacks of my most impactful moments with Beyond Borders.

In some ways, every student involved in this project undergoes a similar experience, yet we all encounter unique triggers throughout the year that inflict some emotionally intense memories of our volunteer-work. I feel heartbroken and powerless during those moments, though it sounds exaggerated and unwarranted while others are hungry and dehydrated out there in extreme environmental conditions; many have no idea if they will ever see their family again, or whether they will live to see the sun rise in the morning. I cannot help but think about Tanya, our newest team member whose parents crossed the border, and wonder what personal aspects it will contribute to our understanding of the immigration process

On November 20, 2019, I attended a program hosted by a non-profit organization in Indianapolis, which focused on resilient people in our community and their stories of immigration into the US. Someone read a poem that hit me really hard. Part of that poem read:

I am sorry that everything is still on fire.

Once hate catches, the winds of “not my

problem” blow and the blaze is hard to stop.

But hard is not impossible. Not yet is different

than never… You and your community

together are the answer…

You are here to put out the ravenous flames

and heal the world. Enough is enough.

-Rev. Theresa l. Soto

This really resonates with me because I’ve seen how hard Dr. Latham has worked to develop relationships within the community. Its necessary we work together to help alleviating the load of this crisis at the border. I wish there was more we could do, but I know that even the smallest possible contributions are better than nothing.

Though this will be my third trip, I feel like I am blindly entering into the intensity once again. During my last visit to Falfurrias, I got a very small glimpse of the conditions of Texan ranchlands in which migrants often perish. As the unfamiliarity of this trip approaches, I think I can accurately say that I am excited yet terrified. I watched my good friend and colleague shed tears when she presented on her experience about a very similar volunteer season with Beyond Borders. Although she’d previously been through an exhumation season, physically trekking through the paths that numerous migrants had taken was profoundly eye-opening in a different way. I am nervous for the physical and emotional fatigue, but I am ready to return. I feel extraordinarily privileged to be able to aid in the possible survival of human beings who are enduring one of the riskiest journeys of their lives. I anticipate that I will emerge with a fuller understanding of the horrific journey that these migrants goes through, and I hope this leads me to better serve the community, the deceased, and their families.



Third Time’s a Charm

In our current climate — both environmental (with predicted average temperature increases of 2.5-10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next 100 years) and political (with a continued vilification of those crossing the border as well as those aiding in the humanitarian crisis) — the work being done at the border is imperative. Groups in Arizona and Texas, as well as individuals, are working every day to provide aid to those who have crossed and attempt to recover those who did not survive the journey. It is an honor to stand among those people, and an honor to travel to Falfurrias for the third time. 

Fieldwork in Sacred Heart Burial Park in January 2019. My first trip to Falfurrias.
Fieldwork in Sacred Heart Burial Park in January 2019. My first trip to Falfurrias.

My own anxieties are the same as the previous trips: the harsh environment, the long days, etc. However, the recent trial of Scott Warren (cited above) adds an additional legal anxiety. The Beyond Borders team is no stranger to interactions with Border Patrol and other entities, especially after getting pulled over three times in May 2019 while filling water stations. Fortunately, this has been the most extreme of our encounters. Yet, Warren’s arrest and trail, which TIME called “the most severe of all charges faced by humanitarian aid workers by far” (Aguilera 2019) means it is more possible that our team will have more, and possibly more severe, dealings with Border Patrol. 

While my irrational brain has these thoughts, my rational brain knows our team operates from a place of extreme privilege. We always have Deputy White with us, both for safety and to vouch for our presence and actions. We are also backed by an academic institution, an extra layer of protection that most organizations do not have. We have been and will continue to operate the same way we always have, but those working at the border every day are facing harsher consequences than we could imagine. Therefore, our job is twofold. We must perform the work at hand while in Falfurrias, but continue to educate about the border crisis wherever we go, as well as continue to support those organizations working tirelessly to aid at the border. 

January 2020 team
January 2020 team

Nevertheless, I am going to try to push those anxieties aside (if I can) and be present for this trip. It is very likely that this will be my last trip to Falfurrias, a reality I have no yet come to peace with yet. The past two trips have changed my life in ways that are impossible to articulate or duplicate, and it is an experience I never want to end. But — I want others to have these opportunities as well. I am so excited for our rookie, Tanya, to experience Falfurrias and everything that comes with it. I am also excited to spend my last trip with two former teammates, Alba and Sammi. And as always, I am grateful for the ability to continue to work with and learn from Dr. Latham, who inspires me every single day. 

Thank you to everyone who has supported this trip so far, and for your continued support throughout!