In a quiet field behind the Terrace Park Cemetery in Imperial Valley lays the remains of hundreds of unidentified bodies. Etched into markers across the field reads name after name of John or Jane Doe. Who are these people? What is their story? Sadly we will never know. It is said that most of these people are migrants who illegally crossed the border in hopes of creating a better life for themselves and loved ones.
Many of these people died from heat exhaustion, as temperatures regularly reach the triple digits in the summer and water quickly runs out. Others drowned in canals and some even murdered. Although these individuals are not given the privilege of green grass above them, they are still honored with small crosses created by the Border Angels.
Sadly, there are no longer people being buried here and the last person to be buried there was in 2009. Since then, any body found has been cremated with its ashes spread over the sea. This switch saves the county roughly $860 a person. All cremations are taxpayer funded. This obviously causes much debate, as the whereabouts of where our tax money goes always does. Critics claim this creates less money for other needs that presumptuously require more attention.
Since Trump’s election, there are less people entering from Mexico and more people heading back into there instead. The El Centro sector has only 3 deaths recorded in 2014 and 6 in 2015 compared to 90 deaths in 1998 and 56 in 1997. 5 of the deaths recorded of the 8 were in fact unauthorized immigrants. It is fair to say that all must have underestimated the journey ahead of them.
I had the honor of interviewing one of the Border Angels, James Cordero, to get a closer insight to immigration across the U.S. & Mexican border:
How long have you been working with the Border Angels?
I started volunteering with Border Angels in June 2016
What drove you to want to be part of this?
I’m an avid hiker and I saw an opportunity to do something good, give back, while exploring a new area and wanting to learn about what goes on.
Can you tell us a little about Terrace Park Cemetery?
Terrace Park Cemetery, located in Holtville, CA is small, and the mass grave of the unknown, undocumented immigrants is hidden behind a fence and bushes, with very limited access, so no one really knows what’s there.
Are there only migrants fleeing over the border that are buried there or are there also smugglers or people who couldn’t afford a proper burial? Are any of them actual citizens?
As far as I know, it is just anyone who cannot be identified who has died in the region. Immigrants who cannot afford to pay a coyote carry drugs as their payment for being brought across, so I would assume some of those migrants have died doing so, even though the SD/IMP region is less likely to cross drugs through, due to the heavy militarization and rough terrain. Most of the drug crossing is further east. We have talked to migrants who have actually had their lives spared while bringing drugs across. One had an injury and usually they’re shot (since they know too much by that point), so some of the bodies could be those who had been injured and just killed. There may be citizens, but the lack of identification cannot let anyone know their background
What do you have to say about the recent story of border patrol agents caught destroying water and supplies intended for migrants in the harsh desert?
Our suspicions have been confirmed.
What do you feel the world should know about immigration going by your first-hand experiences and what you have witnessed?
These are people just like us, who were born and raised in a different part of the world, without the same opportunities we have, just by being born here. People have migrated since the beginning of humanity. People will migrate to where their chances of survival is best. It’s not just men coming for work. It’s men, women, children, babies. Women take birth control before they cross, since 6/10 women experience sexual assault while crossing. We see traces of kids coming across. Diapers, shoes, clothes. Babies are “drugged” so they won’t make noise (that can give up your location). It’s less of people from Mexico, but more Central America where the US has created the issues that the people are fleeing from.
The only way to the John & Jane Doe cemetery is through the Terrace Park Cemetery. I must note that the John Doe cemetery is no trespassing and you will have to receive permission in order to visit it. The Terrace Park cemetery has some very old and unique tombstones I noticed:
The Jane & John Doe cemetery lays in a fenced-in lot behind it:
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