Tag Archives: geography

NSF Grant to TXST Will Count Border Bodies

Since I’m an SWT alum, what happens at my alma mater interests me. Having a sibling who graduated with a degree from their Anthropology department adds to the interest. So, when I saw that the National Science Foundation gave a $1 Million to TXST Anthro and other departments it was good news to hear.

A large, but unknown number of migrants die every year trying to enter the United States along the U.S.-Mexico border. There is no accurate count because there are no central databases documenting migrant deaths. As a result, national authorities, policymakers, and public health officials don’t know how many migrants are dying or how policies can curb migrant mortality.

Texas State University recently received a $1 million award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help document and share this important data and fill the gap.

Dr. Alberto Giordano and Dr. Nick Herrmann are co-leading the project entitled Migrant Mortality Mapping Portal Project (M3P2). Giordano is a professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies whose prior work on historical geographic information systems (GIS) includes studies on the Holocaust and other genocides. Herrmann is a professor in the Department of Anthropology whose prior work in forensic anthropology and geospatial studied eastern Mediterranean bioarcheology.

The three-year NSF project has two parts. First, the team will collect and organize big data on migrant deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border from various sources—from law enforcement reports to newspaper articles. Then, the team will develop a publicly accessible website where the data can be downloaded and explored with tools that the team will develop for exploring the data. Students will have opportunities to participate as research assistants in both areas. A post-doctoral researcher and doctoral and graduate research assistants will help the team with collecting and standardizing the data and designing and maintaining the database and tool.

No doubt, SWT’s work in body ID and the growth of their body farm research put them on the map to earn this grant and recognition. I have no doubt that it will be good work and a great contribution to society.

When the database is complete, more lives lost at the border will be counted, more stories recovered, more families reunited and more humanity regained.

That said, it is sad that the Feds would need to fund such a program. The fact of the matter is that if a Democratic President, House, and Senate had prioritized immigration reform and reformed its border enforcement policies instead of bolstering them, perhaps we wouldn’t need to match dead bodies to broken families. According to law enforcement on the border, bodies are found almost every day.

Some of the deaths are also due to migrants taking more and more risks to evade detection by federal authorities, he says. People are crossing the tumultuous Rio Grande, walking through dangerous ranchlands in the record Texas heat and paying the ultimate price, the sheriff adds.

It’s something immigration rights advocates have warned about as the latest tragic trend: people being forced to take increasingly risky paths due to mix of border policies that have made it more difficult for migrants to seek refuge in the US.

So many migrants, including children, who have attempted to cross the US southern border have died in this region that the forensic pathologist serving the area says 2022 is on pace to become the deadliest year on record in recent memory.   

Whether it’s the Border Patrol, Secretary Mayorkas and President Biden, or Greg Abbott, nothing has been done to actually save people from imminent death as their policies force migrants to change paths to get to this side. Paths which are more dangerous, treacherous, and deadly. Paths that walls, armed enforcement, and federalized local cops make more dangerous, thus, causing death.

Yes, kudos to NSF for funding this important work. But it further exhibits how broken our government is when it comes to people escaping violence and poverty. At least people who are south of us.