FALFURRIAS, June 25 - Brooks County Judge Raul Ramirez says any immigrant bodies buried in plastic bags at a cemetery just outside of Falfurrias must have come from Jim Hogg County, not Brooks County.
Bodies found in Brooks County were buried in body bags at from Sacred Heart Cemetery, Ramirez said, according to KIII-TV of Corpus Christi. Brooks County owns the cemetery.
KIII-TV is also reporting that the Governor’s Office has committed $150,000 to pay for the Texas Rangers to look into whether a full investigation is needed.
Click here to watch the KIII-TV video.
Unidentified bodies found in bags were uncovered by students from Baylor University and the University of Indianapolis. Professor Irma Guadarrama recorded the project. She said students took on the task of exhuming bodies from Sacred Heart Cemetery for the purpose of “lab-testing the remains and identifying and reuniting them with their loved ones.” Baylor University’s Dr. Lori Baker led the project.
Over the years, many hundreds of unidentified bodies have been found in the brush in Brooks County. They are thought to be immigrants who perished while trying to circumvent the Border Patrol checkpoint on Highway 281 south of Falfurrias.
On Tuesday, state Sen. Juan Hinojosa held a meeting at the state Capitol with Dr. Baker, staff from the Governor’s Office, the Department of Public Safety, the Texas Rangers office, and Brooks County elected officials, including Judge Ramirez. Hinojosa’s district includes Brooks County.
“For the past two years, Dr. Baker, a lead expert in forensic anthropology, has led a group that has exhumed graves in the Sacred Heart Burial Park in Falfurrias, a Brooks County-owned cemetery, to identify immigrants who died entering the United States. Dr. Baker stated they exhumed 52 bodies this year that were buried prior to 2013.Brooks County officials stated that a local funeral home was paid to transport and bury the unidentified human remains,” Hinojosa said.
“During our meeting, Dr. Baker explained that this was not a mass grave but human bodies in the cemetery. However, we discussed the need for the Texas Rangers to conduct an inquiry to find out if there was negligence, criminal wrongdoing or improper burial, a violation of state health law. We also discussed the possibility of future grants from the state to assist Brooks County with the processing of unidentified human remains.”
Hinojosa said he remains “concerned with the manner in which the bodies were buried and will continue working with officials to determine the proper course of action.”
State Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, has strong family ties to Brooks County. Like Hinojosa, he wants the Texas Rangers to investigate the Sacred Heart Cemetery.
“I was glad to learn that the governor’s office, just days after Sen. Hinojosa and I called for an investigation into this very serious matter, is providing key state resources to find out what may have happened, and why,” Canales said.
Canales serves on the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, which oversees legislation on the prosecution of criminal acts. In a news release, Canales said he was angered by news of the mass graves site, and wants to know how this reported practice had evidently gone unchecked.
“There is no doubt that a crime has taken place, and we need to protect the site to prevent any evidence from being damaged, tampered with, or destroyed,” Canales said. “Just as important, we need to send the message to the world that in our state, we do not stain the honor of loved ones who have passed away.”
Dr. Baker has been telling media outlets that it is a wild exaggeration to say mass graves have been found at Sacred Heart Cemetery.
Professor Guadarrama said the true nature of the problem goes far beyond what was discovered at the Sacred Heart Cemetery.
“Since the migrant trails are situated in private lands, everyone, including the Border Patrol is strictly prohibited from trespassing. Thus, when the Border Patrol or Sheriff responds to a call, they must first obtain authorized permission to enter the private premises. In some cases the landowners are eager to cooperate and have pre-authorized the agents to enter their property at any time. However, there’s a strong anti-immigrant sentiment among the landowners, some of who are more concerned over the litter left behind by the border crossers, such as empty water bottles and food wrappers, than about any unrecovered corpses,” Guadarrama said.
Guadarrama helps promote the work of the South Texas Human Rights Center, a non-profit organization that attempts to address the issue of migrant deaths by installing “water stations” throughout the migrant trails. She said resources are limited.
“Federal and related agencies that are better equipped to focus on the problem of migrant deaths and these and other related problems can channel their work toward resolving the issues. The availability of resources is often hinged on how resources are allocated. Without a focus on saving lives or recovering hundreds of migrants who have lost their lives and whose scattered remains are undiscovered, the problem will prevail and worsen,” Guadarrama said.
Click here to read an op-ed from Professor Guadarrama.