For families of vanished migrants, unidentified remains mean answers never come

Part two of two. Read part one: Border Patrol has failed to count hundreds of migrant deaths on US soil.

(CNN) One day last May, in the desert southwest of the town of Ajo, Arizona, search and rescue volunteers discovered two long, white bones near a mesquite tree. They had little flesh on them and gnaw marks from some carnivore. But they were clearly human — a thigh bone and a humerus, or upper arm bone.

Ely Ortiz and the members of his rescue crew, Aguilas del Desierto, or Desert Eagles, spread out across the flat, sere desert. They found a pair of New Balance running shoes, a section of spine, a blue polo shirt, a pair of black trousers. In the pockets, Ortiz found a well-creased birthday card and a black wallet with a Honduran ID card for Dennis Martinez Nuñez. Despite the serious expression in his photo, the clean-shaven Martinez looked younger than his age of 30.Through Facebook, the Desert Eagles reached his family that night. Martinez had set out four months earlier from the gang-ridden Colonia Villa Franca neighborhood of the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa. A Honduran Air Force veteran, he hoped to find work in the United States so he could send money back to his pregnant wife.Instead, he became one more of the thousands of migrants who have died trying to cross the US-Mexico border illegally. And had it not been for Ortiz and his crew, Martinez’s family might still be wondering if he was dead or alive.Border crossers die of heat exhaustion and dehydration in the summers. They freeze to death in the winters. They drown in the deceptive currents of the Rio Grande or irrigation canals. Bodies disappear in the vastness of the deserts and mountains, bones scattered by scavengers.Just under 304,000 people crossing the US-Mexico border illegally were apprehended by the Border Patrol in the fiscal year that ended last September 30. That’s the lowest number in 40 years, suggesting a similarly lower rate of illegal crossing. But the Border Patrol reported 294 people who lost their lives on American soil to the hazards on the way — and CNN identified at least 102 more deaths in the border region that the Border Patrol didn’t include, along with scores of other likely crossing deaths in which officials couldn’t confirm whether the remains were those of undocumented migrants.As CNN has found, the federal government doesn’t keep a complete count of the total known deaths of migrants along the border. The Border Patrol, the only federal agency charged with collecting those figures, has reported to Congress that it reaches out to local authorities for their migrant death numbers. The Border Patrol agents and local officials that CNN spoke to say they do not.But if the United States does not know how many migrants die in aggregate, it knows even less about who died in particular. There is no centralized, federal system to identify migrant remains, only a patchwork of state, local and volunteer efforts. So, when a would-be crosser doesn’t survive, his or her family is often left in limbo.Those dying are mostly young, mostly men, and mostly from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala or El Salvador. But women and children, too, die along the way. Some are fleeing gang or cartel violence; some are looking for work and a better life. Increasingly among them are those trying to make their way back to family and friends in the United States after being deported.Read the entire article here:

Bob Ortega