Different organizations from across Texas gathered Wednesday in front of the Brooks County Courthouse to address the issue of unidentified remains of immigrants.
There were 129 bodies of immigrants found last year in Brooks County alone. The Sheriff's Department said that, of those 129, the identities of 68 were unknown.
"This is a crisis that's occurring now," said Tom Power of the Texas Civil Rights Project. "If we don't move to address this right now, we think that the numbers are only going to increase."
Power was one of the many immigrant advocates that spoke on Wednesday. The various organizations gathered at the courthouse steps in Falfurrias to raise their collective voice about what they call a humanitarian crisis.
After the rally at the courthouse, the organizations went to the Sacred Heart Burial Park for a prayer, and to raise awareness about the bodies of the unknown immigrants that are buried there. They said that the close to 50 unknown immigrants that are buried there is a number that is absolutely unacceptable. The county is actually running out of room for the bodies.
The advocate organizations called on local law enforcement to collect DNA samples of the human remains they find, saying that the effort will be funded through a federal program grant via the University of North Texas. However, the county will have to pay for shipping.
"It's all about money," Brooks County Judge Raul Ramirez said. "That's why I say it's real simple to come in here and say, 'Have I got a deal for you.' I said, 'But who's going to pay for it?' That's the question. Right now, we're having to pay for it. So somebody wants to come pay, we're glad to get this, you know."
Ramirez said the county is impoverished, and that they budget for things like roads but not the cost of recovering the remains of immigrants; but doing just that is taking its toll on the county. Autopsies, body bags, burials, fuel, vehicle maintenance, death certificates, paying the JPS, the county judge, the county clerk, dispatch, the sheriff's investigators; it all adds up. Ramirez said the cost totals to $1,470 per body, but he added that the county does absorb all of those costs, with no state or federal assistance, because it's important to bring closure to the families of the deceased immigrants.
Both the judge and the Sheriff's Department say these organizations never contacted them or consulted with them about this proposal from University of North Texas, or even about the rally; but that their goal is to identify the immigrants, and if the funding is there, they welcome it.