Deer hunters happened upon the gruesome sight of decomposing human remains as they moved through a remote desert region in West Texas on Sunday. The hunters summoned Culberson County Sheriff’s Office from Van Horn, Texas, after discovering the badly decomposed human remains lying on the desert floor.
Responding deputies recovered the mostly skeletal remains. The death of the suspected migrant will be added to the total of unattended migrant deaths the department deals with during the current border crisis.
Deputies located a wallet containing a Mexican identification card that may indicate the deceased is a migrant from the neighboring Mexican state of Chihuahua. Due to the advanced state of decomposition, the decedent’s identity will be verified through DNA tests. So far, 25 unattended migrant death cases have been investigated by Culberson County Sheriff’s deputies since February.
Culberson County is the fifth-largest county in Texas and one of the most sparsely populated with less than one inhabitant per square mile. The sheer size of the county means most migrants crossing the border through the county will need to walk for days through a dry desert environment to avoid apprehension. In addition to serving the law enforcement needs of residents, the county also must bear the expense of dealing with the increasing migrant deaths the sheriff’s office must investigate.
The recovery, transportation, autopsy, DNA testing, toxicology tests, and final funeral costs related to the investigations all fall on the local taxpayers. On many occasions, according to Culberson County Sheriff Oscar Carrillo, the migrants are stripped of all identification by human smugglers leaving only DNA testing and fingerprint examination as clues to identify the deceased. The migrant remains usually lie in refrigerated storage pending a decision by local authorities to cremate — a costly reality for the county and the migrants who have perished.
The task of searching the more than 3,800 square miles of the county when migrant disappearances are reported is daunting. To aid in searches, Carrillo has partnered with Aguilas Del Desierto, or “Angels of the Desert,” a non-profit search and rescue group from San Diego, California. The group, consisting of volunteers from several southwest border states, routinely assists the county in attempts to locate missing migrants in the region.
Randy Clark is a 32-year veteran of the United States Border Patrol. Prior to his retirement, he served as the Division Chief for Law Enforcement Operations, directing operations for nine Border Patrol Stations within the Del Rio, Texas, Sector. Follow him on Twitter @RandyClarkBBTX.