A Texas town becomes the tomb of the unknown immigrant

Wed May 15, 2013 1:42pm EDT
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By Jared Taylor

FALFURRIAS, Texas (Reuters) - Mounds of dirt decorated with fake flowers sit at the northern edge of the cemetery in this town about 80 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. Small metal placards mark the graves of the unknown, generally by gender, while others simply say "bones" or "skull case."

It is here that more than 50 unidentified immigrants were buried after dying in heat and punishing terrain while they tried to seek new lives in the United States. As legislators in Washington debate bipartisan proposals for an immigration overhaul, Texas officials say this small town, the seat of Brooks County and part of the U.S. Border Patrol region known as the Rio Grande Valley sector, is emerging as an epicenter of death and misery.

Sheriffs' deputies in the county - population less than 5,000 - found 129 bodies in 2012, about double the number from the year before and six times that recorded in 2010. This year so far - before the hot summer months, when the majority of deaths occur - they've found 17, said Brooks County Judge Raul Ramirez.

In the Rio Grande Valley sector as a whole, which comprises 17,000 square miles of southeast Texas, Border Patrol agents also are recording a rise in deaths and apprehensions. Enrique Mendiola, the USBP spokesman for the area, said 78 immigrant deaths and 357 rescues have been recorded in the sector since the government fiscal year began last October 1. In the same period the year before, he said there were 42 deaths and 137 rescues.

For reasons that remain unclear - law enforcement authorities refuse to speculate - the number of deaths in the Rio Grande region is rising while those in Arizona - which typically records the highest immigrant death toll in the entire southern border region - dropped from 253 in fiscal year 2009-10 to 77 since last October, according to the Coalicion de Derechos Humanos. (The human rights group tracks immigrant deaths in Arizona.) Mendiola said immigrants can easily lose their way in the flat, Texas brush country. In Arizona they can use the mountains and other natural landmarks use as directional markers.

Most of the bodies recovered in Brooks County were buried without a forensic examination, which the county cannot afford. Texas law offers guidelines on how to handle remains, but how that is carried out depends on the county.

"They've never had an autopsy," said Lori Baker, a physical anthropologist at Baylor University, of those in the cemetery.

"JUST RUTHLESS"   Continued...

A U.S. Border Patrol agent walks past a rescue beacon near Falfurrias, Texas March 29, 2013. REUTERS/Eric Thayer