Aas a forensic anthropologist working in texas, i work with the unnamed dead – the unidentified human remains that are the consequences of our failed immigration policy. In 1994, the Clinton administration passed an immigration reform titled “Prevention through deterrenceOr PTD, which used checkpoints and other military tactics to channel migrants to the most difficult and remote parts of the border. The founders of PTD knew there would be high mortality and postulated that these deaths would deter future migrants from entering without permission. However, both federal statistics and other studies indicate that the death toll increased dramatically after PTD, failing the primary policy objective of deterring migration. This policy is still in place today.
Nowhere is the failure of this policy more striking than in Brooks County, Texas. Brooks County has a large customs and border patrol checkpoint 70 miles north of the border that serves as the second border for entry into the United States and is the epicenter of migrant deaths in Texas. There is a lot to be said about the difficult terrain surrounding the checkpoint, the private lands where the deaths occur, the landowners who deny access to tracing the dead, the county’s efforts to deal with the dead with a tight budget, about the South Texas man. A rights center that gives families a lifeline, and my own work on this issue. These deaths in South Texas are causing the disappearance of the missing person’s existence and nightmares for the families of the missing.
Nothing can convey the reality of the situation the same way watching the new documentary Disappeared in Brooks County, which tells the story of the Roman family in search of their son Homero. Homero was deported to Mexico after a traffic stop, to a country he had not visited in more than two decades. He then attempted the dangerous journey back across the border to find his family. Homero’s whereabouts have not been known since 2015, when he went missing in Brooks County. His family in Houston still mourn his absence today. His disappearance is just one of thousands of unsolved cases that have accumulated over the decades.
While federal policy has an impact on migration, there is no federal policy regarding the investigation and identification of deaths; rather, it is based on national and local policy. California has a regional medical examiner system, New Mexico a state system, and Arizona has a medical examiner’s office near the border. In all three states, unidentified human remains are taken to the medical examiner’s office where pathologists and anthropologists work to identify and collect DNA samples for comparison with DNA from families of the missing. But things are different in Texas. Within the 1,200-mile border shared between Texas and Mexico, there are only two medical examiners’ offices. Brooks County, with thousands of deaths over the past 10 years, does not have adequate resources to process and investigate these deaths. Until 2013, the county buried the dead without DNA collection and without leaving a paper trail, rendering the dead unnamed and invisible.
The situation in Texas is not much better today and leaves only university professors like myself and non-governmental organizations to lead the efforts to find and exhume those who have been buried without possibility of identification. My student team exhumes, analyzes and submits samples to a national DNA database called CODIS (the Combined DNA Index System). CODIS is a great system and works great for US citizens. Transnational identifications are more difficult. If a family is outside of the United States or is not a citizen of the United States, there are multiple barriers to obtaining their DNA reference samples in CODIS. Therefore, even if DNA from unidentified human remains is submitted from a border state, there may never be identification if there is no familial DNA within. the system for making a match.
“The failure to properly investigate and identify the dead at our country’s border is the culmination of systemic failures on many levels, creating a humanitarian crisis.“
There are non-governmental organizations that are working to collect DNA from families in Mexico and Central America. However, due to the lack of cross-national data sharing, foreign nationals – especially unauthorized migrants – present a challenge that federal agencies are not sensitive to, so the remains of unidentified migrants continue to fall through the cracks. of the net.
The failure to properly investigate and identify the dead at our country’s border is the culmination of systemic failures on many levels, creating a humanitarian crisis. The only discussion of death in immigration policy dates back 26 years, when PTD was conceived on the basis of the idea that it was okay for people to die in their attempt at a better life. There was no discussion of what to do with the dead, how to deal with them or how to identify them. The death toll must be a topic of discussion in immigration reform. If the discussions do not include death prevention, they should at least discuss the need to help border states manage and identify the dead. The families of the missing want answers, and they deserve nothing less.
#unnamed #migrant #skeletons #buried #border