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Dozens of metal crosses, painted white and starting to rust where they’d been placed in the ground over unmarked migrant graves, scatter the ground at the Maverick County Cemetery where dozens of “John Doe” graves have been exhumed in an effort to identify the bodies in Eagle Pass on Jan. 10, 2023.

In a border graveyard, volunteers exhume migrants’ bodies and search for their families

In Maverick County, 26 bodies pulled from the Rio Grande were buried, some without attempts to identify them. Teams of Texas State students are trying to learn their names so their families can be notified.

Texas State University’s Operation Identification team members evaluate the days progress in exhuming “John Doe” graves at the Maverick County Cemetery in Eagle Pass on Jan. 10, 2023.
Dr. Kate Spradley empties a dust pan into a plastic bucket during an exhumation of several unidentified migrants at the Maverick County Cemetery in Eagle Pass on Jan. 10, 2023.

Texas counties spend thousands to identify migrants

Volunteers with the University of Indianapolis Human Identification Center watch as a teammate removes debris from a body bad during the excavation of several unidentified migrant remains at the Maverick County Cemetery in Eagle Pass on Jan. 10, 2023.
Isabel Melhado (left) and Olivia Messenger (right) remove dirt around the edges of a body bag containing the remains of an unidentified migrant buried at the Maverick County Cemetery in Eagle Pass on Jan. 10, 2023.

“The earth swallowed him”

Stacks of temporary grave markers reading “John Doe” and including a migrant’s case number are stacked next to the office building at the Maverick County Cemetery in Eagle Pass on Jan. 10, 2023. The South Texas Human Rights Center and Texas State University’s Operation Identification teams are exhuming several rows of unidentified migrants buried under the signs in an attempt to match descriptions of personal items with Customs and Border Protection case numbers.

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