Indignity in Mass Grave of Undocumented Immigrants

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.

Illustration showing the number of undocumented immigrant bodies found in the Southwestern desert each year.

Illustration showing the number of undocumented immigrant bodies found in the Southwestern desert each year.

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.

Dr. Lori Baker and her team cataloging a set of bones uncovered at the mass grave site in Falfurrias, Texas.

Dr. Lori Baker and her team cataloging a set of bones uncovered at the mass grave site in Falfurrias, Texas.

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.

DNA analysis picture

Dr. Lori Baker in her Baylor University laboratory inventorying remains found in the Texas desert.

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.

Additional Links

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):


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2 thoughts on “Indignity in Mass Grave of Undocumented Immigrants

  1. Dr. Baker’s research serves as an example of archaeology deeply rooted in contemporary politics. She carries out these excavations with the specific goal of both restoring dignity to undocumented immigrants whose bodies have been disrespected after death and of influencing policies/preventing similar deals from happening in the future. The relationship between practice and outcome in her research makes apparent the importance establishing objectives. One must always think about why one carries out research. Who does it effect? Why is it important?

    • I think that the people who are affected by this the most are the immigrants themselves. Current laws are not in the best interest for the immigrants who attempt to go through the extremes of walking across the Southwestern deserts. These deserts have proved through archaeology excavation to be fatal for a lot of people who in the end all they want is a better life in America. Baker’s research showing that more children are dying in the desert correlating with the DREAM Act should be a red flag for law makers to reevaluate its current laws and improve them to help the well being of immigrants. This is important because America is a nation of immigrants all from different countries who wanted a better life and it seems like we are not looking out for immigrants who simply want the same thing. Encouraging the dangerous and constantly fatal journey for immigrants is unjust and all the archaeological evidence points in the direction that this is a major problem that is not going to be resolved unless there is a change, for the better, in the legal system governing the safe passage of documented immigrants into America.

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