The Texas Cemetery Survey

The FBC is conducting a cemetery survey project in South Texas in order to address
the following questions:

  • How many migrants have died crossing the Texas-Mexico border?
  • How many have been identified, per county, per year?
  • Where are they buried?
  • What are the county protocols regarding unidentified deceased persons?

The human rights crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border produces effects on both sides of the international boundary—one of these effects is the death of migrants. Moreover, because of the lack of a transnational forensic mechanism to exchange data regarding missing migrants with information on unidentified remains, there are often issues in determining the identity of human remains recovered near the border. Many remains recovered from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border are never identified, and thus end up in anonymous graves in border town cemeteries, their deaths and burial locations unknown to their families. The FBC launched the Texas Cemetery Survey project to investigate issues with migrant death investigation, beginning with a focus on the South Texas border areas where high numbers of unidentified remains have been discovered. Research and analyses related to burials of unidentified human remains in Texas is a step toward addressing challenges to identification, assessing responsibilities, and presenting strategies for change throughout the migrant corridor.

The FBC’s Texas Cemetery Survey Report will be the first report produced out of this project. It presents research and analysis related to burials of unidentified remains likely to correspond to migrants in seven counties of South Texas. South Texas is one of the primary routes utilized by migrants crossing by foot from Mexico to the U.S. The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (USCBP) has reported 805 deaths along the Texas border from 2012 – 2015, and, according to USCBP official statistics, death rates have been particularly high in the Rio Grande Valley region, with a reported 513 deaths, more than doubling the number of deaths this area has seen over the previous four years. However, these numbers are not fully representative of mortality rates on the border, as many remains along the U.S. border are never found and this data does not include remains recovered on the Mexico side of the border. Thus, the full scope of the humanitarian crisis of migrant deaths on the border remains unknown.

The Texas Cemetery Survey project seeks to: (1) determine a more accurate count of how many migrants have perished on the U.S.-Mexico border, and (2) locate burial sites of unidentified remains in Texas. The focus of the first report is data on unidentified remains burials and processes collected by the FBC regarding 7 counties in South Texas: Brooks, Hidalgo, Cameron, Jim Hogg, Willacy, Starr, and Kenedy. This report analyzes how different issues at the local, county, and state scales directly contribute to larger, transnational barriers to resolving missing migrant and unidentified human remains cases. Furthermore, it presents recommendations for change and action.

The goal of the FBC’s Texas Cemetery Survey Project is to address the many shortcomings of systems charged with the task of correctly identifying and (where possible) repatriating remains found near the U.S.-Mexico border. The investigations into the conditions in the region presented in the Texas Cemetery Survey Report work to facilitate understandings of the numbers of unidentified remains and locations of burials of the unidentified likely to correspond to migrants, as well as lay the groundwork for future exhumations, identifications, and repatriation of remains to families.

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