Three thousand toe tags hanging in UTRGV library memorialize migrant deaths

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EDINBURG, Texas (KVEO) — UTRGV is one of over 130 locations in six continents hosting a memorial for people who have died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The memorial, called Hostile Terrain 94, is hanging in the UTRGV Edinburg campus library.

In 1994 CBP began efforts to force people attempting to cross the border illegally to go through dangerous areas or what agents call ‘Hostile Terrain’. 

You can view the Border Patrol strategic plan document from 1994 here.

The exhibit shows the names and locations of where bodies were discovered between 1994 and 2020.

“The idea that this would serve as a deterrence, and even the migrant deaths that would occur because of the policy would also serve to deter more people from coming. As we can see, that hasn’t happened,” Sarah Rowe, an associate professor of anthropology and the coordinator for the exhibit.

Since 1994, over 3,000 people have died attempting to cross the border in Arizona’s Sonoran desert. Each of the 3,205 toe tags in the exhibit represents the remains of a person that was found in that area.

There are two colors of toe tags on the wall.

“The beige tags are for those who have been identified and the orange are for those who are unidentified,” explained Rowe.

The wall containing the Toe Tag in UTRGV’s library

You can walk up to the exhibit, touch the tags, see the density for yourself. 

“We can hear the numbers about immigration, we can hear 3,200, but it doesn’t hit you in quite the same way as when you come here and stand in front of this wall,” Rowe said.

The goal of the project is to have people read the names and see the number of unidentified bodies and reflect on the nation’s immigration policies.

“This is something that has been in place for over 25 years, multiple administrations, multiple political parties that have been in charge, and yet it’s still here,” Rowe said.

The exhibit is in the UTRGV campus library addition and will remain there until November 19.

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