Millions of foreigners attempt to start a new life in the United States by illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Once across the border, the undocumented immigrants begin their hazardous trek by foot through the arid deserts where extreme temperatures and animals threaten life. Given all the dangers, it is not surprising that the U.S. Border patrol annually finds, on average, 417 undocumented immigrant bodies in the Southwest in places like mass graves. Lori Baker, Ph.D. leads a team of thirty archaeologists and forensic students from Baylor University excavating a mass grave of undocumented immigrants in Falfurrias, Texas, eighty miles from the U.S.-Mexican border. The main goals of Baker’s excavation is to identify the deceased and thereby restore their dignity even in death.
The archaeological strategies in this research are challenging, and Baker’s team must be careful when searching for the bodies because a majority of the remains have been skeletonized. Shovels cannot be used because the remains have been buried so carelessly, forcing the researchers to dig by hand, a daunting task in the 100+ degree weather. Once bodies are found and carefully removed, the team pushes a metal wire down into the soil to test its resistance. The resistance will show if there are more bodies buried underneath.
Baker’s team has unearthed bodies in multiple receptacles, amplifying the brutal disregard for these immigrants’ lives. Baker referenced that, “They’ve been in trash bags; They’ve been in milk crates; We found one in a top handled green bag from a funeral home that had ‘dignity’ on the side and there’s no dignity in someone being buried in trash bags.” The recovered bodies are thought to be Central American immigrants; all hoping to find better life in the United States. The final step for Baker and her team is to transport the remains back to the Baylor Lab for DNA testing. Researchers hope to identify the remains so that they can notify the family and bring some closure to the deceased’s whereabouts.
The excavation of mass graves illuminates the mistreatment of undocumented immigrant remains and Baker builds off her teams’ findings to suggest a solution. Eliminating the initial need for the dangerous journey is the root of the solution. The current immigration laws concerning United States citizenship are not in the best interest of immigrants. Baker describes the massive spike of finding children remains after talk of the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act, which permits immigrant students who grew up in the United States to become citizens, encourages undocumented immigrants to bring their children through the desert. Unfortunately, these children cannot properly regulate the intense heat, leading to their premature death. A change in the immigration reform is necessary to solve this problem so immigrants do not have to endanger their lives for the American dream and anthropologists like Lori Baker will no longer have to excavate these mass graves and struggle to bring a measure of human decency to the immigrants’ final remains.
What the DREAM Act is and how it affects undocumented immigrants:
Deaths of undocumented immigrants in the Arizona desert:
Addresses the undocumented immigrants that are smuggled into the US and other routes across the border (Florida):