BROOKS COUNTY, Texas—Every week, deputy sheriff Don White heads out on remote ranchlands to search for the bodies of illegal immigrants.
Brooks County is about 70 miles north of the U.S.–Mexico border, but it’s also where most of the bodies turn up.
The only way to skirt the Border Patrol checkpoint on U.S. Route 281 is to be dropped off south of it, walk north on private ranchland, sometimes for days, and then get picked up again—the next destination is usually Houston.
White said many illegal aliens who are trying to evade capture are dropped near the county line 12 miles south of the checkpoint.
So far in 2021, 33 bodies have been catalogued in the Brooks County Sheriff’s Office’s “death book.” The pages are filled with photos of bodies in varying stages of decomposition, including skeletons.
With the hottest months yet to come, this year is shaping up to be busy—on par with 2012, when 129 bodies were discovered. Last year, 34 bodies were found.
White, 68, volunteers his time and equipment to do the job; he aims to spend around 100 days per year searching for “the lost,” as he calls them.
Ranchers, local law enforcement, and Border Patrol agents also find bodies, but White says, “I search the areas no one else searches, to find the ones no one else is looking for.”
Over the past six years, White has gained permission from local ranchers to search their land. The county is 944 square miles and he reckons he now has access to about two-thirds of it. It might be a year or two before White covers the same ground, but he’ll check the more popular tracts—along pipelines and power lines—more frequently.
The busiest months are during summer, as most people die from a combination of dehydration and hyperthermia. Water is scarce, it’s not hard to get lost, and smugglers will leave illegal immigrants behind if they’re slow or injured.