Eddie Canales will never forget the sight of a young guy in his 20s hanging from an oak tree on a ranch in south Texas in September.
His flesh had swiftly deteriorated in the severe heat and humidity of this dry scrubland, exposing a large portion of the skeleton, which had been there for at least a week.
The skull, lolling to one side, was clearly seen in a graphic photograph that the sheriff’s office gave to the Guardian. Additionally, both of his feet are gone, likely devoured by wild creatures.
The IDs that were discovered indicated that the man was from Mexico. Police looked into the possibility that it was a lynching but came to the conclusion that it was suicide.
“The majority of the bodies I encounter are already skeletonized,” said Canales, the executive director of the South Texas Human Rights Center, a non-profit organization based in Brooks County, Texas, that works to end the needless, cruel deaths and reunite families with the remains of loved ones.
But this was very terrifying. I’ll remember that picture forever, he continued.
Near the eastern end of the US-Mexico border, Brooks County is a nearly 1,000 square mile area of sparse, brush-covered, sandy ranch lands. It is also the epicenter of a terrible migration crisis that is causing a record-high number of desperate individuals to perish.
The depressing toll is so severe that the area, which includes many Texas counties bordering the Rio Grande, has been dubbed “the other Death Valley.”
Data support that awful moniker: The number of people who died trying to cross the US border from Mexico in 2021 was 715, more than double the number in 2015, making it the deadliest land crossing in history according to the Missing Migrants Project, an initiative of the Swiss-based International Organization for Migration (IOM) that keeps track of migrant deaths and disappearances around the world.
According to a study by the Strauss Center at the University of Texas, Texas has the longest stretch and the greatest number of migrant deaths out of the four US states that border Mexico. Over the past three decades, more people have died in Brooks county than any other Texas county, according to the 119 bodies that were found there by officials last year.
Don White, a county deputy sheriff, said, “We’re straining to cope with all the dead.” In reaction to the gruesome human reaping last year, the state gave the county a mobile morgue. Recently, he had to pick up three new ones in one day.
According to outside experts, federal immigration policies have made the tragedy worse by forcing migrants into increasingly dangerous border crossings and sending refugee journeys — away from persecution, violence, and climate calamity — to a heartbreaking dead end.
More than 70,000 people have been sent back into Mexico to wait for their US court cases as a result of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as “Remain in Mexico,” a policy implemented in 2019 under the Trump administration, according to Eva Moya, an associate professor at the University of Texas who studies the precarity faced by migrants. They frequently wait in makeshift camps where they are frequently denied access to basic healthcare and face violence, rape, murder, and kidnapping.
The risk is still rising, according to Moya. “Smugglers are profiting from the terror that asylum seekers in Mexico are experiencing. They’ll do whatever to take advantage of these individuals and profit. It’s the height of human trafficking.
After legal battles, the Biden administration is finally abandoning the strategy, but it’s not clear how or when things will actually start to change significantly.
According to Alma Maquitico, director of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Title 42, an apparent pandemic-related health measure introduced in 2020 that closes border ports of entry and empowers Border Patrol to summarily deport migrants without a hearing, has made the deaths in Brooks county and elsewhere worse.
She claimed that “Title 42 has caused an increase in fatalities.” People are now more likely to cross in remote, hazardous regions rather than in cities. In the desert, they are perish.
Canales also made reference to the remote, dry area.
He stated, contrasting it with its searing desert namesake in California, “This is the true Death Valley.”
“The immigration process is broken. Instead of blaming the policies that is causing this issue, the administration wants to place the blame on the cartel. The answer is to provide a structured asylum process. Tomorrow you could fix this, he continued.
A representative for US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which manages the 20,000 Border Patrol agents stationed between land ports of entry, claimed that traffickers were to blame for the high death toll.
In a statement, they claimed that “criminal organizations continue to irresponsibly put the lives of those they smuggle at risk for their own financial gain with no respect for human life.” “Despite these inherent risks, human traffickers nevertheless tell migrants that the borders are open. People shouldn’t attempt the risky crossing because the borders are closed.
Although Brooks County is the largest border patrol post in Texas, it is only around 70 miles from the US-Mexico border. The Border Patrol processes an average of 10,000 automobiles per day that are traveling the busiest route from Mexico and Central America to the US via US Highway 281, one of the few northern roadways along the hundreds of miles long south Texas border region.
According to deputy sheriff Don White, the roadblock, like other deterrence measures, has led migrants to take dangerous routes rather than reducing the number of people seeking to enter.
To help migrants cross the Rio Grande on rafts and typically to McAllen, Texas, where they will hide in filthy, claustrophobic safe houses, people smugglers, sometimes known as coyotes, demand thousands of dollars.
In order to bypass the checkpoint, migrants will then be dumped off 50 miles north on sandy backroads and sent on a grueling day-long march into hostile territory where temperatures often reach 100F during the increasingly hot Texas summers and drop below freezing in the winter.
Sheriff Oscar Carrillo of Culberson County, Texas, who is also dealing with an increase in bodies, claims that smugglers frequently send groups of migrants with cannabis in their backpacks so they can deliver the contraband to a contact and minimize the costs owed, provided they survive the trek.
Carrillo detained a group of more than 50 persons that were traveling in February 2020. According to Carrillo, “They are given an itinerary similar to a cruise line.” “The number of attempts to cross has greatly increased. But it’s a risky area because there are snakes and mountain lions there. They will be left behind if they are unable to proceed.
The risk is far from finished for individuals who successfully navigate the initial obstacles in an effort to travel to heavily populated places like Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio, where they can reside undetected by the law.
The country’s bloodiest border smuggling episode to date involved 53 immigrants, largely from Mexico, who were discovered inside a hot tractor-trailer on the outskirts of San Antonio, Texas.
According to CBP data, it is believed that over 7,500 migrants from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and other countries have perished on the US-Mexico border since 1999.
Canales, who has 90 water stations scattered throughout the jungle, claims that the majority of these fatalities are caused by heatstroke or dehydration.
However, he asserted that given the dearth of data and the absence of cooperation from federal officials, the actual number of fatalities is definitely far higher.
Ranchers and farmers on the distant plots, some of which are as large as 50,000 acres, are frequently the ones who uncover the recently or long-deceased individuals because 95% of the land on Texas’ southern border is privately owned, and 99% of it is in Brooks County. According to the Brooks County Sheriff’s Office, just one body out of every five is discovered.
Canales remarked, “It’s a weight that falls on volunteers. Usually, we are the ones who have to deal with the bodies.
However, Canales and his group of volunteers are limited in their success. More than 2,000 of the migrants’ remains found in the US have not been recognized, according to research by the Center for Public Integrity. The continual tragedy of missing people, which prevents families from grieving appropriately, has been dubbed the “nation’s quiet mass calamity” by the National Institute of Justice.
When he was attempting to cross from Mexico through Brooks county in June 2021, Jonathan Alberto Callejas Corado, who was 25 at the time, vanished. The Guatemalan man had intended to travel to Los Angeles to live with his aunt and uncle, but he has been missing ever since.
His aunt Glenda Corado told the Guardian, “We don’t know if he’s alive or dead. “It hurts a lot for us. Because we don’t know what happened, we are unable to weep.
She has contacted human rights organizations, the Border Patrol’s corporate office, and even the Guatemalan consulate in her quest to locate her missing nephew, who was last heard from in this remote region of the country that has turned into an open-air graveyard.
Corado claims that “we have received no support.” “The system is ineffective. What is going on with our boy?
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