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Some people should DEFI NI TELY got to prison for this inhumane and gross
injustice….. if nothing else, for fraud against Texas taxpayers. I guess that in the
Falfurrias area, a “Mexican’s life” is still worth about as much as the life of an
animal – and deserves about the same respect and dignity.
Rick Perry, Ted Cruz and Greg Abbott were all over the news yesterday, regarding
the “let’s protect our borders” political-points issue, but we have heard NOT ONE
PEEP out of either one of them, protesting the desecration of these human beings’
Placido Salazar, USAF Retired Vietnam Veteran (210) 433-0378
Dr. Hector P. Garcia American GI Forum Org of TX
Rio Grande Guardian > Guest Column > Story
Guadarrama: Recovering Bodies, Unraveling Dark Secrets: Remains of Unknown Migrants
Excavated From a Falfurrias Cemetery
Last Updated: 24 June 2014
By Irma Guadarrama
Students from Baylor University and the University of Indianapolis took on the task of exhuming bodies
from Sacred Heart Cemetery, near Falfurrias, Texas. (Photo: Irma Guadarrama)
FALFURRIAS, June 24 - When students from Baylor University and the University of Indianapolis took on
the task of exhuming bodies from Sacred Heart Cemetery for the purpose of lab-testing the remains and
identifying and reuniting them with their loved ones, the lessons they learned were far beyond the
science of forensic anthropology that they had expected. Actually, they expected the unexpected.
Baylor University’s Dr. Lori Baker and Sgt. Jim Huggins and their team of almost 30 students,
and the University of Indianapolis’ Dr. Krista Latham and her team of five students spent ten
days digging out remains from a cemetery plot designated for the “unknowns,” presumably the
remains of migrants found in various parts in Brooks County in South Texas. As part of a
partnership with Brooks County Sheriff’s Office, the university teams would exhume the bodies
as a service agreement and as a means by which to provide a “hands-on” learning experience for
the students completing an undergraduate or graduate degree in forensic anthropology or a
related field. The university teams had exhumed 62 bodies last summer and had anticipated
exhuming as many or more this summer. In all, about 50 remains were recovered although the
exact amount will be finalized after they are fully examined.
The teams worked diligently, consistently, and tirelessly from daybreak to noon, when the
humidity and heat finally took a heavy toll on their wellbeing. In all, three students and a faculty
member (Dr. Baker) had to be taken to the emergency hospital due to dehydration and in one
case, a back injury.
After plotting off the work area, their digging and probing were at first instinctual. “There was
no game plan,” one of the students commented. No one knew exactly where the bodies had been
buried. The bodies, or remains thereof, had been literally dumped into the cemetery pit.
Sometimes two bodies were buried together. Upon finding a “body,” the plastic coverings that
held the remains were extremely degraded prompting Dr. Baker to scoff at the irresponsibility of
those in charge of burial arrangements. The students quickly learned of the lack of any kind of
rules as to the depth and breadth by which bodies were laid, thus they probed in every direction
that might lead them to a body. In one case, they found a green “shopping bag,” that turned out
to be a bag with the name of the funeral/burial service, literally a body “bag” holding the remains
inside a plastic covering. They also found trash such as a beer bottle and can, and plastic gloves.
Regardless of their condition, the bodies were pulled out carefully and in a dignified manner
placed into a larger body bag. Every action was recorded via photographs; every important
aspect was measured and analyzed and entered into a database; the careful, solemn manner by
which each body was handled seemed to compensate for the callous and indignant burials that
each had received.
Certainly, the conditions of the bodies and the manner of their burials were sufficient to cause
outrage and consternation. However, just beyond the city limits of the Sacred Heart Cemetery, a
brief two miles outside of the small town of Falfurrias, to the east, west, and south, is a vast area
of sparsely populated, brush and mesquite tree terrain that unwittingly serves as the County’s
morgue.The bodies that the university teams pulled out of the cemetery were found within the
990 square mile parameter of Brooks County. These were the remains of the migrants who had
perished as they trekked through the rugged fields, dodging danger at every turn. They died from
dehydration or from a rattlesnake bite. They became lost because they were left behind or trying
to hide from the Border Patrol. No one knows exactly how each one died. The corpses were
accidently found by ranch owners or their staff while working in their ranch detail. Unlike the
bodies that were recovered from the cemetery, the remains of many unknown migrants have yet
to be recovered. To date, no efforts have been undertaken to deliberately look for remains
throughout the walking “trail” areas used by migrants in Brooks County or another county in
The exact total number of migrants who have lost their lives while crossing the migrant trail in
Brooks County varies depending on the source. A US Border Patrol source has an amount
recorded of 511 deaths in the Texas-Mexico area just for the fiscal year 2012-2013, a number
exceeding all other totals from the border states (Arizona, California, New Mexico). In Brooks
County alone, 129 bodies (Prevention of Migrant Deaths Working Group of Houston United)
were recovered during the same fiscal year. However, these figures represent the number of
corpses that have been recovered, excluding the current numbers that are reported on a regular
basis. The question of how many corpses have not been recovered from the spoils of the migrant
trails in South Texas looms as large as the vast South Texas wilderness.
The Colibrí Center in Pima County, Arizona, in conjunction with the Medical Examiner’s Office
has recorded 800 cases of unidentified migrants recovered from the Arizona-Mexico border. The
Colibrí Center, whose sole mission is to help in identifying the human remains in a
comprehensive reliable manner, has a databank of 1,500 missing persons that have been reported
by their family or loved ones as “last seen crossing the border.” The Brooks County Sheriff’s
Office as well as the Webb County Medical Examiner’s Office (in Laredo, TX), each report that
they receive numerous calls each day from people looking for their loved ones that went missing
somewhere in South Texas. Although the exact number is unknown, from various anecdotal
accounts, there exist hundreds of bodies of unknown migrants that have yet to be recovered.
The question persists: Why isn’t there a concerted effort to look for missing migrants whose
remains are purportedly along the South Texas migrant trails?
Since the migrant trails are situated in private lands, everyone, including the Border Patrol is
strictly prohibited from trespassing. Thus, when the Border Patrol or Sheriff responds to a call,
they must first obtain authorized permission to enter the private premises. In some cases the
landowners are eager to cooperate and have pre-authorized the agents to enter their property at
any time. However, there’s a strong anti-immigrant sentiment among the landowners, some of
who are more concerned over the litter left behind by the border crossers, such as empty water
bottles and food wrappers, than about any unrecovered corpses.
The South Texas Property Rights Association (STPRA), headquartered in Falfurrias, is one of
the dominant non-profit organizations that “protect the rights of property owners in South
Texas.” Their mission is to “educate the public of the rights of property owners,” and their
message in regards to immigration issue is that they are concerned about a “disturbing trend of
massive illegal immigration” in their properties and that “these types of trespassers, along with
the potential for terrorists, … were seen as a threat to the safety and security of South Texas
properties.” It is not surprising that many landowners, who in large part reflect the ultra
conservative stance of the STPRA, disregard the lives of the migrants, dead or in periled
conditions, and have little interest in participating in any kind of rescue or search activity that
may lead to saving lives, let alone recovering bodies. Additionally, many landowners defend
their “right” to enforce trespassing laws by using the example of a wrongful death lawsuit
(Rodriguez v. Boerjan) that involved accidental deaths of border crossers in a car chase.
At the local and regional front, lawmakers who have recently learned about the efforts of the
Sheriff’s office in collaboration with two universities have chosen to concentrate on the
irregularities and negligence on the part of the funeral companies. According to the Houston
Chronicle article (by Christopher Sherman), State Representative Terry Canales (D-Edinburg)
contacted the Department of Public Safety for assistance on the matter, while the State Senator
from Corpus Christi, Chuy Hinojosa has called for a “criminal investigation.” However, the true
nature of the problem is far beyond what was discovered in the Sacred Heart Cemetery. South
Texas Human Rights Center, a non-profit organization attempts to address the issue of migrant
deaths by installing “water stations” throughout the migrant trails. But the resources are limited.
Federal and related agencies that are better equipped to focus on the problem of migrant deaths
and these and other related problems can channel their work toward resolving the issues. The
availability of resources is often hinged on how resources are allocated. Without a focus on
saving lives or recovering hundreds of migrants who have lost their lives and whose scattered
remains are undiscovered, the problem will prevail and worsen.
Perhaps, the dead have finally raised their long forgotten voices, and their memories are
gradually becoming the stories that must be told and heard.
Guadarrama is a university professor, writer and photographer. She writes for the South Texas
Human Rights organization and has penned poems for the Guardian in the past. Guadarrama
participated in the Baylor University and the University of Indianapolis excavation work in
Brooks County, Texas. The above column first appeared in Guadarrama's blog. Click here to
read Guadarrama's 'Mujeres, Fronteras y Sus Historias – Women, Borders and Their Stories'
Write Irma Guadarrama
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