Anthropology group begins exhuming remains of unidentified migrants
On Wednesday, anthropology students and professors from both the University of Indianapolis and Texas State began working in Falfurrias to exhume the remains of unidentified migrants who died while trying to cross into the United States.
"You know hunting season is starting and that's how we usually recover some of these unfortunately," said Brooks County Sheriff Benny Martinez.
There are also three major areas at the Sacred Heart Burial Park in Falfurrias where there have been unidentified migrant burials.
"Approximately 120 individuals were exhumed in 2013 and 2014. There's just a few areas left in the cemetery that we'd like to investigate this field season," said Dr. Krista Latham, associate professor of biology & anthropology at the University of Indianapolis.
In 2015, the remains of 61 people were found. On Wednesday morning, the remains of nearly 10 unidentified migrants were found in tattered coffins.
"These individuals don't deserve to just be tossed into a grave and just marked by a number. They deserve to get their names back," said Dr. Tim Gocha, post-doctoral research fellow at Texas State University.
The remains of the unidentified migrants were buried with no DNA samples taken. It's against the law and a big problem in South Texas, according to the anthropologists.
"There are isolated incidents where individuals were buried not in a body bag or in a coffin. For instance there's skeletal elements just tossed and buried into a milk crate," Dr. Gocha said.
The number of rescues by Border Patrol has increased which in turn has decreased the number of remains found. However, he says each time remains are found, it's never a pretty picture.
"It is not a good visual. It is not the person on a photo. It's not the person that actually left their home country. It's totally different, totally different. There's always missing skin, flesh, hair. It's just not a good sight at all," Sheriff Martinez said.
Anthropologists say Brooks County isn't the only county with this issue.
"We surveyed 7 counties. We have about 23 more to go. So this is going to be a multi-year project. Hopefully by the beginning of the summer, we're going to have a technical report that details our findings," Dr. Spradley said.
The remains found are taken to Texas State University where the identification process begins.
Meanwhile, the group will keep digging in hopes of identifying the migrants' remains and to one day reunite them with their loved ones for a proper burial.
The group will continue their work until Jan. 11. Anyone searching for a lost loved one who went missing while trying to cross the border can call the South Texas Human Rights Center in Falfurrias at (361) 325-2555.