Monday, 28 September 2015

Texas: Hearing set on identifying immigrant remains

Efforts to improve the identification process of undocumented immigrants who die while crossing from Mexico into Texas will take center stage in the Rio Grande Valley today.

The Texas Forensic Science Commission will host a public meeting at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, has announced.

The meeting will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the facility, which is located at 118 Paseo Del Prado, near the intersection of McColl Road and Dove Avenue in southwest Edinburg.

The gathering in Edinburg, which is the result of a last-minute amendment on May 26 by Canales to Senate Bill 1287, will focus on what is known as the Rio Grande Identification Project.

The Edinburg lawmaker’s amendment created the Rio Grande Identification Project and requires the Texas Forensic Science Commission — a state agency — “to develop a method for collecting forensic evidence related to the unidentified bodies located less than 120 miles from the Rio Grande River,” Leigh M. Tomlin, with the Texas Forensic Science Commission, stated in an advisory about the Edinburg meeting.

“In accordance with its legislative mandate, the commission is working with stakeholders to develop a systematic plan for proper forensic evidence collection of biological material that may help identify human remains found along the border. The goal for the session is to establish best practices in Texas for subsequent publication and dissemination,” Tomlin explained.

Canales said an estimated 1,000 immigrants without any identification have died in the Rio Grande Valley during the past 10 years.

In the summer of 2014, international attention was focused in deep South Texas with the discovery that mass graves of hundreds of suspected unidentified immigrants were buried haphazardly in a cemetery in Brooks County.

In addition, hundreds of immigrants’ bodies have been recovered on the ranches in Brooks County in recent years. Smugglers guide immigrants through the brush trying to circumvent a Border Patrol highway checkpoint an hour’s drive north of the border. There is little water and the walk can take two or three days in punishing temperatures.

The House District 4o lawmaker recalled how the Legislature late last spring took action to bring compassion and closure to thousands of families who never know what happened to their love ones who crossed into Texas seeking a better life.

“It was spontaneous. I just noticed the subject of the bill and it got me out of my chair,” Canales said.

“I ran to the front of the House of Representatives and said, ‘I have an amendment to this bill, hold on.’”

The passage of his amendment was even more remarkable given the political climate in the Legislature, he noted.

“I think it was one of my most exciting moments in the Legislature,” Canales said. “I was a little over jubilant that it passed, especially with the anti-immigrant sentiment that exists in the Texas Legislature. I think it’s a great victory.”

“I think that it’s unquestionable what role immigrants play in our daily lives in our economy,” Canales said. “Not only do we need to respect what they do for our country but we need to respect human life in death.”

Monday 28 September 2015


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