Today is #GivingTuesday and we would like to invite you to be part of this day to support our Missing Migrant Hotline and give a gift that multiplies. From now until December 31st we are eager to raise at least $20,000 and we feel strongly that we can do it with your support.
The crisis of disappearance along the deadly stretches of the U.S. Mexico border is a constantly growing monster. Our project, as well as other projects that confront this crisis, are continuously overwhelmed by the number of families looking for their loved ones after they embarked on the potentially deadly journey to cross the southern border of the United States. The numbers of cases, striking as they are, can fall short of conveying the personal tragedy of each individual situation. Statistics will never tell the stories of the fathers, mothers, children and siblings who call us looking for information.
What follows are a few stories of examples of what are fairly standard cases for this project and how we respond. All names have been changed to protect the privacy of the families.
Community Search and Rescue – The case of Felipe
In august of this year, we received a call from the father of a 14 year old from Mexico, Felipe. His voice held steady for the description of the conditions that had led him to send his son on this journey, as the volunteer tried to reassure him that he did not have to justify his decision. He told us that he had just received a call from someone who had been walking in the desert with his son, who had told him that Felipe had been left behind in the desert two days ago, when he had been too tired to go on. He had been left with a gallon of water, but in the middle of one of the very remote areas that are crossed to avoid Border Patrol check points. Felipe’s father didn’t know what to do. He asked us to activate any resources that might go search for Felipe, including police, Border Patrol, or volunteers.
From the narrative description given over the phone by the group member to Felipe’s father, we were able to narrow down the area that he had been left behind. Because he had been able to walk when left, and two days had already elapsed, a driving search of all of the dirt roads in this area was elected as a better possibility than a hiking search to a specific point. Border Patrol declined to search, siting vague information. Border Patrol’s Search and Rescue unit, BORSTAR, consistently states that they will only initiate a search with exact GPS coordinates given by a 9-11 call. This is something that is often not possible due to the low cell signal in the remote border areas; and something that was certainly not possible in the case of Felipe, who had his phone taken from him by the guide before the walk started.
Volunteers with No More Deaths initiated a search based off of the info given, driving the dirt roads in the area that Felipe was left. We continued to be in contact with Felipe’s father to update him on what was being done, as well as with Border Patrol to pressure them to search and make sure they had not already found Felipe. Because Border Patrol has consistently struggled with rapid and accurate documentation of people they apprehend, there are often situations in which volunteer search and rescue teams are out looking for someone who has already been apprehended. This turned out to be the case for Felipe. He had managed to self-rescue, finding his way out to a populated area and being apprehended by Border Patrol. He was apprehended at 11 in the morning on the day we received the call and initiated a search for him, but we weren’t told this information until 6:00 pm. Volunteer search teams were out looking for Felipe for 7 hours after he had been apprehended, a situation that is not uncommon with search and rescue in the border lands.
Felipe was deported rapidly, although his father was adamant that he was seeking asylum in the U.S. Minors from Mexico are not given the same treatment as minors from Central and Southern American countries, and we have documented several cases where minors from Mexico are deported rather than entered into the asylum process they are requesting.
Detention Search Team – The case of Israel
In May, we had received a call from the sister of a 35 year old, Israel, also from Mexico. Two weeks before calling us she had gotten a phone call from Israel saying he was lost in the desert. Immediately afterwards, his phone died and she received no more information. She had been calling every number she could find for the last two weeks looking for him. The consulate had told her he was in a detention center, but when she called the center they told her he was not there. Our detention search team took on his case because the family had already tried many steps without success and confusing results. After several calls, our team was able to find information about him being held in a different detention center. Although the detention search team had just been told he was in Marshal’s custody, his US Marshal’s number did not show up in the online locator. Additionally, when his sister called the detention center he had just been located in, she was again told that he was not there. It was only after repeated calls that she was able to confirm that he was in fact in that facility. It had been over two weeks since she had received an emergency phone call from her brother, and he had not been given any opportunity to contact his family in that time.
Transfer of Forensic Information – The case of Martin
At the end of September we received a call from the brother of a 39 year old from Guatemala, Martin. In August, Martin’s brother had received a call from someone who was with Martin during his crossing. This person said that his group had gotten scattered by a Border Patrol helicopter. After wandering lost, Martin had been unable to continue. He had been left feverish and unable to walk in a remote location. His brother had already been in contact with the consulate, and had made other calls to ICE offices and detention centers to search for his brother. He had called us because he was beginning to fear the worst and wanted to know how to look for Martin in the Medical Examiner’s system. We explained to him the harsh realities of the remote border crossings, that if someone has died in the crossing it is possible that remains may never be found, and–if they are found–an identification is not always possible. We are careful to present the realities to families as gently as we can and not offer any sense of false hope. We then worked with Martin’s brother and other family members to gather all information about Martin’s physical traits, medical and dental history, and clothing and provisions he carried with him. We sent this information to the appropriate Medical Examiners office, given the basic area that Martin was lost in. We also sent his information to a collaborating project, the South Texas Human Rights Center, where a volunteer is able to enter this information into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons Database.
Why we do this:
Coalición de Derechos Humanos began The Missing Migrant Project in the late 1990s to assist families in their search for loved ones who have disappeared while crossing the U.S./Mexico border.
In November 2013, we began a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week hotline that has been running at any given time with two part-time staff members and countless volunteers and interns. The first year, our hotline was receiving an average of 30 calls per month from families looking for their loved ones, but in the year 2015 our calls have increased to over 100 monthly calls.
What we do is nothing short of a miracle with the amount of resources that we have. We would love to begin 2016 with enough funds to hire more staff to ensure we give families the resources they need.
We have an amazing donor who just gave us $1,000 for you to match