A small Texas county with an even smaller sheriff’s office continues to tackle a big problem: deaths of undocumented immigrants in their ranchlands.
Brooks County Volunteer Sheriff Deputy Don White knows each search is a chance for immigrants to be rescued.
“It is so desolate out here and so easy to get lost and die,” said White as he began a new search by foot for migrants about a mile from the nearest Border Patrol checkpoint.
Every month, Deputy White picks a ranch or follows a tip, usually near a border patrol checkpoint, and goes on an hours-long trek through the rugged terrain with the hopes of finding people before death does.
“The whole search is based on finding somebody that’s already deceased. But if we get lucky and find someone that’s still alive, then we can save them,” he said.
Using the “sign cutting” method, White picks up on fresh tracks and follows them in hopes that it will lead to a source.
Clothing items and empty water bottles are found on the ground every couple of yards.
The trash can be another indicator of how recent a person traversed through a certain location.
“It’s a high-traffic area,” White noted. “Some of them like to stay close to the highway so that gives them a reference. They still get lost here and they still die here.”
White says that more than 600 human remains have been recovered in Brooks County since 2009, with seven of them found in the past month.
After three years of volunteering, White admits that it can be demoralizing to spend so much time looking for a needle in a haystack. But every time he’s found someone alive or their remains, it reminds him of the importance of his volunteer work, especially knowing that children could be out there.
“The thought of them dying either in the water or out in the brush or something like that with nobody there to help them, it’s heartbreaking,” White lamented. “It’s important for the families to have closure.”
The 65-year-old plans to continue his efforts as long as he can or until the need goes away.