Immigrants to be exhumed in hopes of identifying

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Associated Press

Posted on March 25, 2013 at 11:02 AM

Updated Monday, Mar 25 at 11:02 AM

FALFURRIAS, Texas (AP) — Starting in May, a group will exhume the remains of dozens of illegal immigrants laid to rest at Falfurrias Cemetery in South Texas in hopes of identifying them.

At the end of last year, 35 immigrants who had died in Brooks County were still unidentified, and immigrant groups called for the use of DNA tests to help with the process.

The San Antonio Express-News (http://bit.ly/109gYu2 ) reports that the county's decision to partner with Baylor University physical anthropologist Lori Baker's group Reuniting Families to identify the remains defused those tensions. But challenges ahead for the forensic anthropologists include lost markers for some of the graves.

Last year, ranchers and law enforcement in Brooks County found 129 decomposing bodies and skeletal remains of illegal immigrants — by far the most in any Texas county. That number was about double what it was the year before and six times higher than in 2010.

Brooks County is a patchwork of ranchland with about 7,200 residents. To circumvent the Falfurrias border checkpoint, human smuggling routes cut through miles of thick brush in the rural county. During summer months in the area, temperatures climb into the 100s.

Amid a rising number of unidentified dead over the past decade, Baker has taken on the task of identifying and repatriating the remains of illegal immigrants scattered throughout morgues and cemeteries in the Southwestern U.S.

Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith, a lecturer in the Department of Mexican American Studies at the University of Arizona, has spent the past two years researching how each county along the U.S. Mexico border processes immigrant remains.

For instance, while Texas offers guidance on how to handle remains, discretion and practices vary according to jurisdiction.

"When we look at the total number of deaths on the border, it's very difficult to know if they are right because nobody really knows how many people die in Texas," Rubio-Goldsmith said. "There are hundreds of people reported missing, and there are hundreds of people unidentified, and yet there's no way of putting those two things together right now."

For fiscal year 2012, the Border Patrol reported 463 migrant deaths in the Southwest border sector, and though the Tucson sector, which at 170 recorded the most deaths, nearly 60 percent of all deaths occurred in Texas, the greatest number of them in Brooks County.

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Information from: San Antonio Express-News, http://www.mysanantonio.com

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