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When Falfurrias Justice of the Peace Loretta G. Cabrera answers the office phone and hears “Code 500,” she leaves for home, where a field set of boots, jeans, and raincoat are “always ready.” At the site she methodically notes the time and distance from the highway. Clothing. If the body is intact, paramedics and the Mexican Consulate are called. The funeral home field director helps collect remains if they are scattered. “Sometimes identification is not difficult,” says Cabrera. “When there are two ladies traveling together, one stays when the other dies; when an uncle dies a nephew stays; when one brother dies the other stays.” Sometimes, according to the consulate, phone numbers have been written on an arm, or even tattooed, either a pre Workers at the Falfur monition or as preparation for a jour identified are buried. ney whose risks are understood. The body goes to Corpus Christi, where the coroner performs an autopsy, and fills out a death certificate that invariably lists the cause of death as exposure. Then it goes to the funeral home. The mortuary charges the county a low flat fee, a little extra if the work requires a disaster bag \(thick, black, with “You walk out at the end of the day and don’t think about it,” said Cabrera, a small woman. “The Lord gives you strength. Someone has to do it.” This routine of logging the dead repeated itself 56 times in Brooks County last year. \(Only 20 persons died in the total, the Border Patrol recorded 453 border deaths including 187 in Texas and New Mexico. \(New Mexico is included Office report last summer said recorded border deaths have doubled since 1995. It also said the Border Patrol initiative to collect data may be resulting in an undercount. No one knows, of course, how many die without leaving recoverable remains. There is a small logistics problem emerging with regard to the unidentified dead in Falfurrias: Their section in the cemetery is running out of room. “We didn’t see this before,” says the mortuary’s field director, Angel Rangel, who has worked there 27 years. “Not a month goes by now we don’t find cadavers.” Once the funeral home kept just two disaster bags in stock; today it orders cases of six to 12 at a time. The mortuary is purchasing a 4-wheel drive truck because its van meant for paved streets is a ruin. “It might not sound like you want a loved one in the back of a truck but it’s the best way to take them out,” Rangel explains. He uses the term “loved one” for migrants, not “aliens,” “illegals,” or even, when they’re dead, “deceased.” “Well, they’re someone’s loved ones,” he says. Like other rias cemetery, where about two dozen of the dead that could not be locals, Rangel opines that as long as Mexicans need work and families want to be together, people will continue to risk the journey. “And the smugglers will keep telling them it’s not that hard. People have no idea they have to walk. We find housewives and the overweight. If you’re already sick, you won’t make it. The sand gives way as you walk so your feet start to burn. We find them with blisters all over their feet.” Rangel seems affected by what he has seen, maybe because he makes the first call to the family for those who are easily identified. He wants me to know, however, that any relative who happens to be traveling with the dying person sticks around, even though it means both will fail at the enormous task they began. “They walk out there, father and son as a unit, a loved one slowly deteriorating. Here all those dreams just die, in the middle of nowhere.” On an early spring morning, mist hangs among trees in the Sacred Heart Burial Park. About two dozen graves lie in a section by themselves, each topped with a small aluminum marker scratched with a pen knife. Names: “Unknown,” “Skeletal Remains,” “Remains, Male.” One says, “Unknown Female, d. Feb. 22, 2007.” They are graced with a motley collection of plastic flowers, some nearly overgrown by tufts of grass, others dusty, but adding color and linking the section somehow to the better-kept graves in the rest of the cemetery. Each aluminum marker names the ranch where remains were found: El Tule, Cage, King, Vickers, Laboretto Creek… A single bird sings in short bursts up in a tree somewhere, unseen. No one attended these burials. Where do all the plastic flowers come from? A caretaker passes. He shrugs. “Gente de buena voluntad,” he says, as if the answer were obvious. “People of good will.” Mary Jo McConahay is an independent journalist and contributing editor to New America Media. JUNE 1, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15