Migrant search group returns - Brownsville Herald: Valley

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Posted: Monday, February 3, 2014 8:00 am

McALLEN — A California-based search and rescue group has returned to Falfurrias to continue their search for missing immigrants.

The non-profit group Angeles Del Desierto is preparing to enter the Tule Ranch in Brooks County on Tuesday in order to continue their search of people who went missing in the harsh brush area, said Rafael Hernandez, the leader of the group that specializes in searching inhospitable areas.

While Angeles Del Desierto does most of its work in the western states like Arizona and California, Hernandez began visiting South Texas in 2012 after he received hundreds of calls from Central and South American families claiming their loved one went missing near

the Falfurrias or Sarita checkpoints.

The two U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints are the last barrier that immigrants face when travelling north, that is why many of them take to the brush area surrounding the highway outposts — and has proven to be a death trap, Hernandez said.

Last week, Hernandez and a handful of volunteers drove from California to Brooks County to search for the hundreds of who have disappeared.

“It is very easy to get lost in this terrain and die from dehydration, exposure or animal attacks,” he said.

After receiving permission from some of the ranch owners, Hernandez was able to enter Tule Ranch on Wednesday and after a few hours of searching, found the decomposed body of a 24-year-old man.

“It is sad each time we find one because that is a family that will never see their loved one, but at least they will get some closure,” he said.

The man’s body was turned over to the Brooks County Sheriff’s Office, which will try to identify the body — a task which over time has proved difficult leading to the hundreds of bodies that end up in unmarked graves.

The plight of missing immigrants led to the Texas Civil Rights Project and other community outreach groups calling in February 2013 for DNA testing of the bodies found in Brooks County. That led to a team of forensics students from Baylor University, who began a DNA database of the remains in Brooks County in order to make it easier for families to find their loved ones.

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