This article by Ricky Cheney appeared in our fall newsletter.
¿Cuántos días caminaron? (How many days did you walk?) ¿Cruzaron calles pavimentadas o de tierra? ¿Cuántas? (Did you cross any paved or dirt roads? How many?)
These are the types of questions we ask on our intake forms for searches. We receive reports from family members and individuals who last saw the missing migrant and then respond to the best of our ability.
In the year 2000, the Coalición de Derechos Humanos started calling attention to the deaths on the border. Shortly thereafter, hundreds began looking for their missing siblings, spouses, children, parents and friends.
Search and rescue has been a part of No More Deaths’s role in the desert since we began in 2004. In some sense, our regular desert-aid work is always an informal search for anyone who might be lost. Search and rescue is distinct because it is a response to a specific person who is lost. We also engage in search and recovery (of remains) and commonly refer to both as SAR.
In the year 2000, the Coalición de Derechos Humanos, a key partner for the SAR project, started calling attention to the deaths on the border. Shortly thereafter, hundreds began looking for their missing siblings, spouses, children, parents and friends.
When people go missing, or rather are disappeared by violent border apparatus, loved ones contact groups throughout Latin America and the US borderlands. No More Deaths directs all calls it receives to Derechos Humanos, which assesses the case and redirects it where needed. Other cases come directly from the desert, post-deportation from our partner groups in northern Mexico, or from the Colibrí Center for Human Rights, a Tucson organization that tries to reunite the unidentified dead with their families.
The missing migrant may be in detention and not being allowed a phone call, may already have been deported, or may still be out in the desert. NMD also sends cases to the Colibrí Center at the Pima County Medical Examiner’s office, which works to match the information with remains.
One of the most damaging aspects of this militarized border is the sting of mystery that haunts so many families with loved ones who were disappeared.
NMD currently takes on cases in Arizona that might have enough data to begin a SAR. We do an interview, fill out a detailed intake of the journey, and then organize a search group. Our SAR team has worked with the Samaritans (Arizona), Águilas del Desierto (California), Ángeles del Desierto (California), and the South Texas Human Rights Center (Falfurrias, Texas).
In June, NMD, Derechos Humanos and the Binational Migration Institute held a SAR conference in Tucson, Arizona, with ten groups participating from all along the US–Mexico border. Since that time our collective efforts have greatly improved.
Summer 2014 has been extremely active and our team, roughly twenty people and growing, has been taking on new cases every week. Out of roughly 140 cases that came in to Derechos Humanos from June to September, NMD took on more than twenty.
While cases have resulted in the missing person turning up safe, being found in detention, being found deported, or remains being identified by the medical examiner, for many there are still no answers, and maybe never will be.
I got involved in SAR in 2010 and still carry with me vivid memories of searches that year, with some questions left unanswered. One of the most damaging aspects of this militarized border is the sting of mystery that haunts so many families with loved ones who were disappeared.
As NMD works to stop death and suffering on the US–Mexico border, we want to stand in meaningful solidarity with families in their quests for answers and reunification.