From dehydration to alarming injuries, the trek across the southern border into the United States is littered with a slew of challenges for migrants, leaving many dead before their journey is complete.
With the launch of I Have A Name/Yo Tengo Nombre, the Texas Observer aims to provide closure for families unaware of their loved ones’ fates. “Many of the migrants’ remains have been mishandled; some were buried in black trash bags in mass graves. Even when the deceased are properly handled by law enforcement and forensic scientists, identification is difficult because of how disorganized and decentralized local, state and federal authorities are,” Texas Observer editor Forrest Wilder wrote in a statement on Thursday (Dec. 8).
The bilingual, online database combats this reality by “unlocking the identity of dozens of unidentified migrants” through a catalogue of images shot by Multimedia Editor Jen Reel, who spent countless hours in forensic labs over the last year keeping track of clothes, rosaries, jewelry and backpacks migrants left behind.
— The Texas Observer (@TexasObserver) December 12, 2016
During the course of building the database, Reel helped facilitate a match after discovering a child’s drawing, which included a woman’s name and a prayer referencing Ecuador. “A Google search turned up a missing persons ad in a McAllen, Texas, newspaper from November 2013 — six months after the remains were found,” Wilder continued. “Texas State University, working with the South Texas Human Rights Center, got in touch with the humanitarian organization that took out the ad, which in turn contacted the family. DNA testing confirmed the woman’s identity.”
The publication hopes their groundbreaking initiative will continue to do the same for hundreds more. “By its nature, ‘I Have a Name’ is incomplete,” Wilder added. “However, it’s the first bilingual and searchable database that focuses solely on unidentified migrants. We hope this project will be both an inspiration and a prototype for future work.”