Fronteras: 'These are human beings' — The effort to exhume, identify, and repatriate migrant remains
At least 853 migrants died crossing into the United States from Mexico during fiscal year 2022 — the deadliest year ever for migrants.
That doesn’t include the number of migrants who died on the perilous journey to the U.S.
Migrants often drown after being pulled under the currents of the Rio Grande or die of injuries sustained trying to climb the border barrier.
Texas code requires a forensic examination be taken anytime an individual dies and the circumstances around their death are unknown.
While some migrant remains are sent to a medical examiner’s office, several South Texas counties began to bury migrants without proper analysis or DNA collection due to the high volume of deaths and a lack of resources.
Operation Identification (OpID), is based out of Texas State University in San Marcos. It works with families of the missing, under-resourced state agencies, and other organizations to identify and repatriate unidentified human remains.
Carina Marques, assistant professor of anthropology at UTRGV’s College of Liberal Arts, launched the forensic anthropology program at the university.
She and a group of students assisted OpID in the border city of Eagle Pass. She said the importance of the project can’t be underscored.
“(The migrants) would never be identified again,” she said. “Which is devastating and sad for all these families that actually look for an answer, look for their loved ones,” she said.
Nora Ramirez and Paulina Orcadiz are UTRGV graduate students who helped exhume and identify migrant bodies in Eagle Pass.
Ramirez reflected on the experience. She said while she and Orcadiz knew what they were getting into, they felt an overwhelming sense of emotion and responsibility.
“These are human beings, these are individuals,” she said. “And for the first time, seeing them in that state, and everything that comes with all the senses, it was not easy.”