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Operation Identification Examines Migrant Graves Outside Brownsville

todayApril 13, 2022 52 1

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By Preethi Mangadu
Web Content Contributor

 On April 1, 2022, Texas State University’s Operation Identification (OpID) located unmarked graves in Guillen Community Cemetery using geophysical equipment.

Due to the lack of county resources and high volume of death, many counties would bury undocumented migrant individuals without documenting the location of burial, collecting DNA samples, or proper analyses.

To combat this, OpID was founded by Dr. Kate Spradley in 2013 “to identify and repatriate unidentified human remains found along or in close proximity to the South Texas border through community outreach, scientific analysis, advocacy, and collaboration with governmental and non-governmental organizations,” according to the OpID website.

The organization is a part of the Forensic Border Coalition that aims to understand and help those who are caught at the U.S.-Mexico border.

They collaborate with the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, South Texas Center for Human Rights, Colibrí Center for Human Rights, International Committee of the Red Cross, the USCBP Missing Migrant Project and more to give families who are missing their loved ones peace.

This visit was conducted by Dr. Spradley, OpID lab manager Chloe McDaneld, Ph.D. students Molly Kaplan, Mariah Moe and Courtney Siegert, masters student Heather Nesbitt, undergraduate students Veronica Flores-Guillen and Ariana Escalona, geophysical expert Dr. Nicholas P. Herrmann and Deputy Don White of the Brooks County Sheriff’s Department.

Using geophysical equipment, such as ground-penetrating radar, drone images and infrared photos, the team surveyed the area to locate the exact spots of individuals, in preparation to exhume the bodies in May. The location of individuals may be unknown due to them being unmarked or the layout of the cemetery shifting over time.

“So we use these non-destructive techniques to help guide our exhumations, to really bring it into more focus,” Spradley said for an article on My RGV News’s website. “So this way, we do not have to dig up large areas of the cemetery because we are cognizant that community members are buried here. We want to be the least intrusive possible.”

Maria G. Guillen’s, the manager of the cemetery, family made sure to have proper services and consecration for those who were unmarked. Because of this, she was a bit sad to know they will be exhumed in May but hopeful for those families missing their loved ones.

“I hope the loved ones looking for their family members do get matched up using this DNA— then there can be closure,” Guillen said. “I am sad to think they go through life just wondering where their loved one is.”

For more information on OpID and their process, visit their website.

Featured Image by Preethi Mangadu

Written by: ktsw899

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