They’re used to finding bodies in Brooks County, Texas. It’s nothing new: They have discovered the remains of over 650 dead migrants in this part of the Lone Star State since 2009.
Brooks County Sheriff Benny Martinez estimates that for every body recovered, there are five others that are never found. That means he suspects that in the last 10 years alone, nearly 4,000 migrants lost their lives in just his county. It is important to note, however, that Brooks County is located 70 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.
Once they have entered the country unlawfully, many migrants passing through Brooks County attempt to circumvent the Border Patrol checkpoint by taking a days-long hike through harsh terrain with little water, food, shelter, or adequate gear to reach their final destinations. Many never make it. In the hot summer months, some die from dehydration, heatstroke, or exhaustion. During cold south Texas winters, they also die from hypothermia.
The remains of these migrants — sometimes with missing body parts that were eaten by animals or already decomposed to the bone — demonstrate in painful terms our failure to secure the border. And though these tragedies in Brooks County have been extensively reported by major publications throughout the country for a decade, the border is still not secure.
The majority of unlawful migrants passing through the county are guided by smugglers, known as coyotes, who have knowledge of the area. Migrants pay exorbitant prices in hopes of making it to the United States so they can be reunited with family or get a job. However, these criminal coyotes aren’t exactly concerned with the welfare of their clientele along the way.
Once smugglers bring people across the border, they keep them in safe houses before continuing their trek into the interior. These accommodations are cramped and lack food, water, and personal hygiene products. From there, along the way, many of the migrants are robbed or sexually assaulted. Reports indicate that some women travel with multiple layers of spandex pants to make it harder for their attackers to strip them down, and others begin to take birth control to prevent pregnancies from rape.
While the majority of deaths are of working-age adult males from Mexico and Central America, that’s not it. Victims range from 15 to 69 years old and hail from many parts of the world — including Ecuador, Brazil, and even China. A significant portion of them are female.
Besides the tragic human toll, the failure to secure the border has also increased financial burdens on the state, localities, and private citizens. These expenses are the result of the federal government’s failure to fulfill one of its core responsibilities: protecting the nation’s borders.
Brooks County alone does not have the necessary resources or personnel to handle coyotes leading large groups across brush or to deal with all of the remains of those who die en route. While Sheriff Martinez indicates that the state has stepped in to provide funding and that universities have helped identify and study the bodies, the county is still overwhelmed.
The unprecedented flow of individuals turning themselves in at the border to claim asylum has required a significant number of Border Patrol agents to focus on performing administrative and humanitarian work. As a result, Border Patrol agents who were in place to aid in rescue missions in Brooks County have been otherwise occupied, making it necessary to rely on volunteers to provide timely support to desperate migrants.
When migrants die before apprehension by federal agents, the local authorities are the ones responsible for the cost of cataloging, moving, and dealing with the remains.
Private citizens are also financially affected by migrants passing through. The county is comprised mostly of large ranches, which means migrants have to pass through private land to make it across the county. Along the way, some of them steal supplies from these ranches or damage their fences and infrastructure.
In short, Texas taxpayers are subsidizing inaction from Washington, D.C., while unlawful migrants continue to die in their backyards. While some politicians try to take the moral high ground by opposing the Trump administration’s efforts to secure the border, the reality is that they are just prolonging the suffering and tragic deaths of these migrants.