Culture

This Día De Los Muertos, Let’s Honor Those Who Died Looking For The American Dream

Jen Reel/Texas Observer

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.

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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.

Credit: Fusion/YouTube

“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.

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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.


READ: The U.S. Can Thank Immigrants For Its Youthful Appearance

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Fox News Reported On CBP Using Tear Gas On “Combative” Migrants This Weekend But Officials Had No Information On This Incident

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Fox News Reported On CBP Using Tear Gas On “Combative” Migrants This Weekend But Officials Had No Information On This Incident

A Fox News headline published on Saturday, July 20th, read “Border agents use tear gas to stop nearly 50 undocumented migrants who stormed Rio Grande bridge.” But the last time a report was published about tear gas used on migrants at the border was January 3, 2019, and it made international news. Here’s Fox’s story:

According to Fox, 47 migrants “rushed” the Pharr International Bridge, and assaulted officers.

Fox and Friends

“A CBP official told Fox News the group attempted to rush across the bridge in three waves,” the article states. FOX quotes the alleged CBP official, “Ignoring commands to stop, the group suddenly rushed the temporary barricades, bent metal poles and disabled the concertina wire affixed to the barrier.”

Fox reports the group strategically rushed the bridge in three waves around 4 a.m. Allegedly, the bridge’s reopening, typically at 6 a.m., was delayed by two hours because CBP had to construct temporary barriers in the middle of the night.

Fox says the violence and destruction were so bad, Pharr Police were called to the scene.

@PharrTx / Twitter

This “official” tells Fox that “CBP officers, Border Patrol agents, Pharr police and members of the Texas Department of Public Safety were called upon to prevent the group’s entry.”

CBP and Pharr police have not mentioned this at all, though, by the time the bridge reopened, the Twitter account linked to Pharr PD’s website shared about their morning golf course clean up.

Fox links alleged migrants to the drug cartel.

Fox and Friends

In a Fox and Friends news clip, the hosts attempt to draw a connection between the migrants and the drug cartel, saying, “The cartel controls that area, so if those people are trying to [cross there], they’re not doing it without at least the knowledge of the cartel which means that something is going on.”

They also want to make the point that it’s incidents like these that Democrats use to “vilify” Border Patrol but what else were they supposed to do?

We called Pharr International Bridge’s offices and they were “not aware” of use of force or of the bridge’s closing.

Fox and Friends

The person who answered said that we should call back tomorrow to speak with his manager for an official statement. We asked if he was aware of Border Patrol using tear gas on migrants, resulting in the bridge temporarily closing, and he said, “I’m not aware of anything like that.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection had no published statement regarding use of force by its agents by the time of this publication.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Typically, there would at least be traffic reports of the bridge closure, as it would affect an innumerable amount of businesses who rely on the bridge for commerce. At least one outlet, CBS Valley Central references “a [media] release from Customs and Border Protection” that seemingly does not exist.

The single image used by Fox was published days earlier by other outlets.

@frank69oo7 / Twitter

There was no footage of the alleged July 20th incident and a reverse image search found that the single image used by Fox was published on other outlets beginning as early as July 17, 2019.

The “official” specifically told Fox that the alleged victims of tear gas were “several males in the group [who] disregarded commands to stop and physically pushed through the barriers.” Sixteen individuals were either federally charged or pending charges for “interference.”

The misinformation has since spread to the likes of New York Post, The Blaze, and more, all referencing Fox News.

Fox News / New York Post

Biz Pac Review even used this headline, “Horde of violent migrants storm Texas bridge punching, kicking and rushing border patrol officers.” More and more alt-right outlets are picking up the piece as it’s gone viral for the conservative online community.

Fox’s article has inspired calls for more violence against migrants.

@frank69oo7 / Twitter

It’s nearly impossible to find a public comment on Fox News’ initial reporting of the tear gas attack without finding threats of more violence. This user enthusiastically, in all caps, says, “GOOD, STOP THEM. MAY HAVE TO USE BASE BALL BATS, BUT STOP THEM.”

Tear gas is so abrasive that, in 1993, the U.S. outlawed the use of tear gas in war.

@RetiredNYCPD / Twitter

It’s something that nations across the world have definitely outlawed as a weapon they wouldn’t inflict on their own worst enemies. The inhalation of tear gas causes victims’ eyes to swell, throats to tighten, uncontrollable gagging and often vomiting for a full hour before the agent leaves the system.

Tear gas is legal for U.S. federal and local law enforcement to use as a method of riot control.

Still, some think tear gas isn’t enough.

@onurb1952 / Twitter

Twitter user @RogerMcEntyre shared Fox’s news report with the caption, “Finally! Machine guns with rubber bullets work too.”

Extreme right conservatives are using the gap in reporting from credible outlets as fuel for the fire.

@AndrewPollackFL / Twitter

Andrew Pollack’s tweet has been liked and retweeted over 11,000 times in less than 24 hours.

Because Words Matter: Rep Joaquin Castro Wants To Get Rid Of The Words “Alien” And “Illegal” In Federal Law, And That Is A Big Deal

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Because Words Matter: Rep Joaquin Castro Wants To Get Rid Of The Words “Alien” And “Illegal” In Federal Law, And That Is A Big Deal

Before we go ahead with this story let’s do something rapidito. Ready? OK, so let’s do a little thought experiment… 

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you read or hear the word “alien”? Perhaps something like this?

Credit: @rzaba3 / Giphy

Yeah, something totally out of popular culture sci-fi imaginary, and what all those people that are pretending to storm into Area 51 are hoping to find. 

Or perhaps something out of a Hollywood blockbuster? A slimy, flesh-eating beast?

Credit: @nerdist / Giphy

The stuff that comes in your pesadillas at night! 

And what about the world “illegal”? Que te viene a la mente? Perhaps a police headshot? 

See where we are getting at? Your mind goes to criminality, shoot outs, police stations and fugitives, the world of law enforcement. It makes you feel threatened. 

Now, if you combine “illegal” with “alien”, this is what some gringos might think about:

Credit: @machetekills / Giphy
Credit: Giphy. @machetekills

Although Danny Trejo is a sweetheart, he is the epitome of the visual representation of the “bad hombre” in Trumplandia. 

And now think about “illegal alien” in the current political context. Does your brain produce an image similar to this?

Credit: image1170x530cropped. Digital image. UN News

It’s a big jump from movie characters and slimy monsters to the plight of thousands of migrants who are fleeing violence, war and persecution in their home countries, right? It doesn’t take a law or literature degree to see how the use of “alien” and “illegal” criminalizes anyone who tries to migrate to another country through whatever means necessary. 

Actually the dictionary definitions of these two words are pretty damning: 

Credit: black-and-white-dictionary. Digital image. EF English Live

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines them as follows:

“Alien” means “coming from a different country, race, or group” or “strange and not familiar” or “relating to creatures from another planet”. 

“Illegal” means “not allowed by law” and the dictionary gives the following examples: “a campaign to stop the illegal sale of cigarettes to children under 16”, “Prostitution is illegal in some countries”, “It is illegal to drive a car that is not registered and insured” and “Cocaine, LSD, and heroin are all illegal drugs/substances”. 

Phrasing is important, so that is why Texas Representative Joaquin Castro introduced a bill to change federal legislation and taking off the words “alien” and “illegal” from policy. So what is the terminology he is proposing?

The terms “alien” and “illegal alien” are an accusation rather than a denomination, and Castro doesn’t hold himself back from calling this a way of demonizing and dehumanize migrant communities. According to an article published by Foreign Affairs New Zealand, Castro is proposing a different, middle-ground terminology for describing individuals who migrate to the country outside of the official immigration system: “Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Vice Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and a member of the House Intelligence and Education and Labor Committees, today introduced the CHANGE Act, legislation that eliminates the term “alien” and “illegal alien” from the Immigration and Nationality Act, and replaces them with “foreign national” and “undocumented foreign national” respectively”. 

This small but significant change would alter how courts and the justice system in general perceives migrants. Repeat after us: “words matter”!

This is how Joaquin Castro himself puts it: “Words matter. It’s vital that we respect the dignity of immigrants fleeing violence and prosecution in our language. The words “alien” and “illegal alien” work to demonize and dehumanize the migrant community. They should have no place in our government’s description of human beings. Immigrants come to our borders in good faith and work hard for the opportunity to achieve a better life for themselves and their family. Eliminating this language from government expression puts us one step closer to preserving their dignity and ensuring their safety”.

The legal system deals in the currency of words and descriptions. Judges and juries make their decisions based on how the alleged crimes are presented, and the words “alien” and “illegal alien” certainly cast a shadow of criminality over migrants. These words strip them of a face, of a life story, of a personality. And this institutional act of stigmatization takes place regardless of whether the person being judged is an old woman, a adult man or a child (we seriously can’t get over how brutal authorities can be, even getting kids to decide which parent they want to stay with at the border). 

The use of “alien” has long been a stigma on the Latino community.

Credit: LATimes

As Jose Antonio Vargas wrote in a heartbreaking 2015 editorial published by The New York Times (we really recommend you read the whole thing):

“RESIDENT ALIEN.”

Those two words, in all caps, adorn the plastic-covered green card that my grandfather, a naturalized U.S. citizen, handed me shortly after I arrived in the United States from the Philippines. I was 12. I don’t remember thinking much about the card (which was not green) or the words (which, strung together, seemed like the title of a video game or a movie). It wasn’t until four years later, while applying to get a driver’s permit, that I learned the card was fake. I wasn’t a “RESIDENT ALIEN” at all but another kind of alien — in common parlance, an “illegal alien.”

The label “alien” is nothing but alienating. And when coupled with “illegal,” it’s especially toxic. The words seep into the psyche, sometimes to the point of paralysis. They’re dehumanizing.

So does Joaquin Castro look like VERY familiar? Well get used to that face (two very trending politicians wear it with Brown Latino pride!)

Credit: joaquincastrotx / Instagram

 Joaquin is the twin of Julian Castro, one of the candidates in the run for the Democratic presidential nomination. The brothers were born to a chicana political activist. That is why  social justice and human dignity runs in their blood. They are sort of a Latino Kennedy duo championing migrants rights! Yes, please. 

BTW, Castro has a long history of fighting for migrant rights, of course

Credit: @joaquincastrotx / Twitter

Joaquin Castro was born in 1974, so he is a pretty young politician at just 44 years of age. As we said, his family was politically active from a very early age, so it is no surprise that migration is on top of his legislative agenda. Depending on how his brother Julian does in the Democratic primary (our prediction is that he will get better recognition in mainstream politics, but it is a long shot for him), the Castro twins could either become an important part of the new administration or a fierce opposition to a second Trump term (oh, we hate to say this but we might need to consider the possibility that this might actually happening). 

And he is no fan of POTUS.

Credit: @joaquincastro / Twitter

He is unafraid of calling him out when needed, like when Trump went ballistic over the progressive agenda of the Fantastic Four (that’s how we prefer to call Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib).

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