MAVERICK COUNTY, Texas (Border Report) — About 10 miles north of the border town of Eagle Pass, a plain white, slightly dented trailer sits on a dusty piece of land emitting a foul odor.
Inside the trailer are the remains of unidentified migrants that are piling up as deaths mount and local funeral homes are unable to keep up.
Migrant advocates say the bodies are in need of an autopsy to help identify them and to match them with families uncertain of what has happened to their loved ones.
Twenty unidentified migrant bodies were stacked in the trailer earlier this month, Webb County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Corinne Stern, who serves 11 surrounding counties, told Border Report.
Maverick County Sheriff’s Sgt. Fernando Ibarra said a recent spate of migrant drownings forced them to find a place to store the bodies until they can get them to Stern’s offices 125 miles away in Laredo, Texas.
“We’re going to start housing deceased undocumented immigrant bodies here,” Ibarra said as he recently showed Border Report the unmarked trailer, which is near a tent facility where Border Patrol agents process asylum seekers who cross from Mexico. “The funeral homes are getting overwhelmed by picking up a lot of deceased bodies in ranches and ‘floaters.'”
Nine migrants drowned in September as the waters of the Rio Grande rose with sudden heavy rains.
Stern says law enforcement finds or retrieves the remains of at least one migrant per week from the U.S. Border Patrol’s busy Del Rio Sector, which includes Eagle Pass.
During a tour of her facility earlier this month, Stern voiced concern for the bodies that were stacking up in Maverick County — one of the 11 counties on the South Texas border that she oversees.
“With unidentified people, the law dictates certain exams that must be done: X-rays; fingerprints, dental,” Stern said.
That is why she is anxious for the trailer to be delivered to her offices so she can process the cases.
Her morgue already has the remains of over 260 unidentified migrants, some dating back years, and some awaiting DNA results that were backlogged due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Her facility also has three trailers where bodies are stored.
Ibarra said the local funeral homes are transporting the unidentified migrants and storing them in the trailer in the remote area off Highway 277 near Fire Fly Lane.
“We have to house them here in this container while we’re able to send them out for an autopsy,” Ibarra said.
As he stood near the trailer on Thursday, he was uncertain how many were currently inside. But a pungent odor made it clear there were human remains inside the unit.
“As I’m standing here I already smell an unpleasant odor so I’m assuming there’s quite a few in there right now,” Ibarra said.
Eddie Canales, who heads the nonprofit South Texas Human Rights Center to help families of migrants to locate loved ones, and sometimes their remains, says every migrant needs to be identified and returned to their families.
“Those migrants in Maverick County should not be in a trailer,” Canales told Border Report on Tuesday.
“In terms of what’s going on there, the sheer number of bodies and how do families get to repatriate those bodies quickly and who facilitates, that is the issue,” Canales said.