Every year, thousands of people from Central America and Mexico leave behind everything and everyone they’ve known and loved for a shot at a better life. Best case scenario, they survive the treacherous journey and end up working some low wage job. Worst case scenario, they die in anonymity, far from a family that has no idea what’s happened to them.
Every year, the U.S. Border Patrol recovers the remains of at least 200 dead immigrants across the southwest border. Those are just the bodies they’ve FOUND.
For many immigrants, getting to the U.S. border is the easy part. The real struggle comes from having to traverse the brutal Sonoran desert or the punishing ranch lands of Texas. Dehydration, exposure to a blistering sun, injury, and even wildlife makes that part of the journey an actual living hell. For hundreds, the unfriendly setting becomes their graveyard.
When an immigrant dies, it’s like they disappear forever. When authorities find their bodies, the remains are so decomposed that identification is next to impossible. In one Texas county, the remains were buried in mass graves. This year alone, 54 bodies were recovered from that same county.
“Nobody cares about dead immigrants,” forensic anthropologist Dr. Lori Baker told the Texas Observer last year. Baker led the excavation of the Falfurrias mass grave. They’re harsh words, but they’re true, and no one knows this better than Baker. She has devoted much of her professional career to finding who the dead bodies belong to so that they can be reunited with their families for proper mourning. Much of this work is done through her organization, “Reuniting Families.”
Despite the Herculean task, a lot of good people are doing everything they can to identify the bodies and give them a name.
Credit: Jen Reel/Texas Observer
Last year, the Texas Observer teamed up with Baker to launch a photographic database of personal belongings found next to excavated bodies. Because the remains are so deteriorated, forensic analysis becomes increasingly harder. The hope is that the families looking for their loved ones can sift through the images to see if they recognize anything. It’s a long shot, but at this point anything helps. Elmer Barahona Iraheta, a 22-year-old father who left El Salvador so as to provide for his young daughter, was identified this way.
It’s not just the Texas Observer that’s trying to help. Earlier this July, local California newspaper The Desert Sun published photographs of actual dead bodies in hopes that someone could identify them.
The point of Día De Los Muertos is to remember and honor our loved ones who have passed. Those who died trying to find a better life for them and theirs deserve to be remembered. They had a name and a story to tell. Politics aside, no one deserves to die in the middle of nowhere, only to be forgotten. They existed. Their lives matter.
In remembrance, we encourage you to make a donation to Reuniting Families. The nonprofit runs entirely on the support of volunteers. They could use every little bit of help.
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