Brooks County in Texas is undergoing a rapid and tragic change. Mary Jo McConahay’s recent investigative piece in The Texas Observer shows how immigration politics have been transforming this Texas county, located 70 miles from the border with Mexico, into a migrant necropolis.
More and more immigrants have been dying as they pass through the secluded and perilous trails that make up the border crossings in the county. McConahay concludes: “As increased U.S. border security closes certain routes, undocumented migrants continue to come but squeeze onto fewer, more dangerous and isolated pathways to America’s interior.”
And as the dead keep pilling up in Brooks county, the county’s already meager budget becomes further drained due to spending on autopsies and burials for undocumented immigrants. Additionally, in Falfurries, the county seat, the section dedicated for unidentified dead in the local cemetery is running out of room.
When reading about policy debates in Washington D.C., it’s easy to forget that what politicians are arguing about actually has some significance other than partisan politics. McConahay’s reporting brings the immigration debate back down to earth. As in this beautiful, yet horrifying, description of the border county:
Pictures of the dead are kept discreetly in certain places in this town, a collective album that tells an important part of what Brooks County—which used to be better known for oil, watermelon, and a Halliburton facility—has become in the last couple of years: a grave for the weak or unlucky. The local Minuteman-type militia, for instance, has a collection of matted 11×14’s. Some are artful: a skull amid crawling vines, a kind of meditation; a young man’s figure with legs softly bent, his head thrown back against a bush with the arc of a ballet dancer’s neck—only an accompanying close-up of the winsome face, mouth open and vacant eyes, speaks death. Some remains are partially clothed. There is a condition that comes with too much sun: judgment wanes, and the affected person mistakenly believes stripping will assuage the heat inside. Many fallen dead from dehydration are found with jugs of water lying nearby; the inexperienced trekker—especially when lost-—will save water instead of sipping it periodically, until a line is crossed in the brain and the person no longer feels thirst even as he is expiring from it. Among the pictures are corpses bloated so grievously they look ready to pop. The body of one young woman is not badly swollen, lying with face and torso intact, but her legs have been gnawed down to the long bones by a feral pig.