SAN MARCOS, Texas — So far this year, the Texas State University Forensic Anthropology Department has identified the remains of 23 people presumed to be migrants as part of a humanitarian project that just lost state funding.
Operation Identification began in 2013 to address what the school calls "a mass disaster of unidentified deaths" in the region. The remains are recovered across South Texas ranch lands and sent to the university in San Marcos for identification, followed by repatriation.
Texas State officials say that not all unidentified deaths are sent to a medical examiner and given a proper forensic examination.
"Due to the high volume of deaths and lack of county resources, most counties were overwhelmed and began to bury the undocumented migrants, most without proper analyses or collection of DNA samples, without documenting the location of burial leaving little chance that these individuals will ever be returned to their families," the school's website states. "In turn, families are left without knowing what happened to their son, daughter, mother, father, brother or sister."
These 23 are the most remains identified in one year, even as a vital resource has been cut off.
"We always have to remain hopeful, because the work that we do is important," said Kate Spradley, director of Operation Identification and a Texas State professor. "We do this for families. We always have these ups and downs, and we'll get back to steps forward."
Spradley says the program will continue next year as the university contracts directly with the counties where most of the bodies are found.