Mass graves of immigrants found in Texas
June 21, 2014
Unidentified migrants who died entering the United States were buried in mass graves in a South Texas cemetery, with remains found in trash bags, shopping bags, body bags, or no containers at all, researchers discovered.
In one burial, bones of three bodies were inside one body bag. In another instance, at least five people in body bags and smaller plastic bags were piled on top of each other, Baylor University anthropologist Lori Baker said. Skulls were found in biohazard bags — like the red plastic bags in receptacles at doctors’ offices — placed between coffins.
“To me it’s just as shocking as the mass grave that you would picture in your head, and it’s just as disrespectful,” said Krista Latham, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Indianapolis.
Bodies that were not already skeletonized before burial were found in varying states of decomposition, Baker said.
The bodies are believed to have been buried by a local funeral home since 2005 in the Sacred Heart Burial Park in Brooks County.
The discovery came in the last two weeks as the pair of anthropologists and their students continued an all-volunteer, multiyear effort to identify migrants who have died of exposure while evading Border Patrol checkpoints in remote South Texas, where temperatures reach more than 100 degrees in the summer and there is little water and shade. Hundreds of people have died in just the last few years in Brooks County alone, where the discovery of the mass graves was made in the county-owned portion of the cemetery in Falfurrias.
The researchers and their students exhumed remains of 110 unidentified people from the cemetery in 2013. This summer they performed 52 exhumations, but more than 52 people were buried in those spaces. Because remains were commingled, and not all of the body bags were opened on-site, further study will be needed to determine the number of people recovered, Baker said.
The researchers expect to return next year to exhume more remains.
The mass graves are yet another sign of U.S. immigration systems and policies overwhelmed by sheer numbers, and of their difficulty coping with the humanitarian aspects of illegal migration. Since October, the nation has struggled to house and process record numbers of minors fleeing civil and political unrest in Central America, many traveling alone. Migrants from Central America travel north along freight train lines in Mexico, leading to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas and on to Brooks County.
There, they set out on foot across rugged, remote, privately owned ranchlands, often led by guides associated with criminal gangs or left to find their way to the next highway north of the checkpoint, a 30-mile trek, or even longer for the lost.