MAN (speaking Spanish): NARRATOR: Each year, hundreds of thousands of migrants begin a dangerous journey across Mexico to the U.S. GUSTAVO (speaking Spanish): NARRATOR: Thousands disappear along the way.
Others hope and continue on.
"Border South" on Doc World.
♪ (wind blowing, nature sounds) (train horn, distant voices) (cricket chirping) INTERVIEWER (speaking Spanish): (speaking Spanish): (interviewer laughing, Gustavo continues in Spanish) MAN (in background, speaking Spanish): (speaking Spanish): (laughter) (exclaims, people laughing in background) (train rumbling, people talking) GUSTAVO (speaking Spanish): (train whistle blows in distance) (objects clattering) KARINA: GUSTAVO: (Karina laughing) KARINA: GUSTAVO: (pan clanging) GUSTAVO: (Karina laughing, Gustavo continues) KARINA: GUSTAVO: KARINA: GUSTAVO: KARINA: GUSTAVO: KARINA: GUSTAVO: KARINA: GUSTAVO: (car alert ringing softly) (sighs softly): Man.
(softly): (bleep) coffee.
(radio in Spanish) (police radio) OFFICER: Hello, good morning, how are you?
- Good, how are you?
OFFICER: I'm doing great, thank you.
Just the three of you?
OFFICER: Okay, all U.S. citizens, correct?
OFFICER: Okay, have a good day.
(insects chirping) (nature sounds) (shutter clicks) JASON DE LE ÓN: We're pretty far north at this point.
We're close enough that people are getting ready to get picked up, and so that's why you're starting to see lots of clothes and other items being left behind.
WOMAN: What are the coordinates?
- 31, 37, 18.9 north, 111, 20, 18.8.
DE LE ÓN: I mean, this... That is turning into nothing.
See this used to look like that.
And that's how quickly the sun will break this stuff down.
In 20 years, this stuff will all be gone.
It'll be totally erased.
(footsteps) (insects buzzing) (bird chirps) (dog barking) MAN (speaking Spanish): (chuckles) (man responds in Spanish) MAN 1: MAN 2: MAN 3 and MAN 2: MAN 1: - No.
MAN 1: MAN 2: MAN 1: MAN 3: (men continue in Spanish) MAN 1: MAN: MAN: (train whistle blows) (men talking) (people whistling) (people whistling) WOMAN (speaking Spanish): (inhales sharply) GUSTAVO: WOMAN: GUSTAVO: WOMAN: GUSTAVO: Ai!
WOMAN: (woman speaking Spanish) - Ah, sí.
(woman speaking) GUSTAVO: WOMAN: GUSTAVO: (woman laughs) WOMAN: (crickets chirping) GUSTAVO: (police radio) GUSTAVO: (train rumbling) (child playing) DE LE ÓN: Hey, qué quieres?
Ignacio... Do you want these ones?
What's your choice?
- What are my choice?
- This one.
These are the best, these are, like, superhero pants.
I.. want... these!
- Okay, put them on.
And then what shirt do you want?
(inaudible) - Uh... (inaudible) - Uh, I don't think we have that one.
Put this on.
(indistinct chatter) WOMAN: We have a whole box of stuff lying in a box.
DE LE ÓN: All right, well, let's just take a look.
(softly): Like a...
It just sucks when this stuff is so fragile.
It's like, you just don't want to take it out.
I think this guy...
I don't know.
This was all found together in a wallet.
Which just makes me think that he was a funny dude.
(woman laughs) DE LE ÓN: Like, he's got a pretty good sense of humor?
And I just love the fact that he's got an illegal alien U.F.O.
in his wallet.
You know, people like looking at the shoes.
This one, right, has come apart and this person has tried to fix it with a, with a metal, um, with a metal rod, and kind of speaking to the, the damage that your shoes can take during this process-- actually, both, both pairs have been repaired, kind of, in the field.
Um, these shoes were found near some, like, hyper-fragmented human remains.
They weren't close enough to kind of be confident that they're from this, um, person, but, you know, you get to kind of, um...
There's a lot of possibility with these things that you'll just never know.
But, yeah, we've got a thousand backpacks, easily.
Goofy little drawings, graffiti... A little cholo with some baggy pants.
Uh, what's inside?
You look inside this thing, it has got... Socks.
Even without people being around, you still end up getting kind of up close and personal with, um, with people.
So this is, like, Darth Maul underwear, and it says, um, "Penetrating the dark side."
That's, I think...
I'm less... creeped out by the fact that this could be the objects from someone who died, and more about...
It feels invasive sometimes, like, it feels like I'm looking at things I'm not supposed to be looking at through this process, but, um... That's, I think that's a, that's a part of the work.
It's, like, you can't...
If you want to document this stuff, you have to kind of get up close and personal and get into people's business.
(man speaking Spanish) MAN: MAN 2: I never see immigration over here in Mexico.
(chuckles): Until today!
Yeah, now I see them everywhere, everywhere around.
MAN (speaking Spanish): SERGIO LUNA: GUSTAVO: LUNA: (Gustavo continues) GUSTAVO: LUNA: (Gustavo laughs) GUSTAVO: (Luna speaking Spanish) (crickets chirping, rooster crowing) (train whistle blowing) (train approaching) GUSTAVO: (train wheels screeching) (dogs barking, roosters crowing) (footsteps approaching) DE LE ÓN: I'm trying to remember... Actually, I think I'm probably standing right where she was.
I've probably hiked this trail a hundred times.
We had just decided on a whim to come out here to check on some old migrant sites.
And we end up finding the body, which was, uh, um... You know, completely unexpected.
(bird cawing) Someone had a really colorful blanket in their backpack.
We ended up using the blanket to cover her up.
We sent two people out to bring the sheriff out here, and we sat with her for about five or six hours.
And... (metal rattling) Hopefully, hopefully no one will, will take that.
We've found human remains before, usually fragmented, just pieces of bone.
But this was the first person that we had found out here who was complete.
Her skin has started to blacken and mummify, and the bloating is beginning to obscure some of her physical features.
Her striking, jet-black hair and the ponytail holder wrapped around her wrist hint at the person she once was.
High above her, turkey vultures circle the corpse.
I marvel at how quickly they have arrived on the scene.
Her name was Carmita Maricela Zhag üi Puyas, and she was 31 years old when she decided to leave her husband and three children to try to make it to the United States.
She was abandoned by her smuggler after she became ill and was unable to continue walking.
(speaking Spanish): (dog barking) (barking continues) LUPITA: (fire crackling softly) (Juan blowing) MAN: (rooster crowing) (talking indistinctly) MAN: (speaking Spanish) (train approaching) (wildlife chittering) LUNA: GUSTAVO: (Luna laughs) GUSTAVO: (indistinct talking) (phone camera clicks) GUSTAVO: WOMAN: GUSTAVO: WOMAN: (Luna speaking Spanish) GUSTAVO: (woman speaking Spanish) GUSTAVO: GUSTAVO: (both laugh) WOMAN: (both speaking Spanish) GUSTAVO: GUSTAVO: WOMAN 2: WOMAN 1: (woman 1 and Gustavo talking) GUSTAVO: (all laughing) MAN: GUSTAVO: LUNA: GUSTAVO: LUNA: GUSTAVO: (Luna laughing) GUSTAVO: (both speaking Spanish) DE LE ÓN: After we found the body of Maricela, I got a Facebook chat from her sister-in-law, who basically said, "Can I call you?
We've got a family member who has gone missing in the desert."
(tape unwinding) José is a 15-year-old migrant from Ecuador who decided to cross the border to reconnect with his parents in New York.
That's not gonna stick.
Those poles down there.
But my hope is that someone will see some... will see this and know something, remember something.
I mean, everybody's kind of holding their breath that, that he's actually been kidnapped, or that he's... is not able to call home for whatever reason.
And... (sighs) He just-- you don't know.
(helicopter passing) There's a reason why people are coming to this environment.
Border Patrol and federal law enforcement funnel people through the desert.
Those are mountains.
Those are not easy to get over if you are a seasoned hiker with expensive equipment.
So to be a 15-year-old kid wearing Air Jordans and, you know, carrying one gallon of water in the middle of the summer is... (window lowering) (police radio in background) OFFICER: American citizen?
We know that... (sighs) We're basically...
Here's Atascosa Peak.
Um, and we're fairly sure that these kids crossed a couple of days' walk west of Nogales.
They talk about getting beyond these mountains.
He gets sick on the other side, and then they leave him basically in a bajada.
So, like, on a, on a sort of flat, um... spot just north of these mountains.
(insects buzzing) MAN: There's more bones here.
DE LE ÓN: I think this is all cow.
MAN: Dried out pretty good.
DE LE ÓN: This is a femur.
That's pretty like... Human femur is not gonna be that, that dense.
One of the worries that we have is that if he got sick and died, and he decided that he was going to rest under a shaded area in one of these washes, you know, the monsoons come through here pretty quickly in the summer.
Potentially could just wash a body completely away.
It's like, what do you tell the family?
"I spent a day digging around in the woods and I didn't find anything"?
You know, maybe I didn't look hard enough.
Maybe there's one more, there's one more area that we didn't check that, which we could have gone through today.
(sniffs) I don't know, that's the hard... That's the really hard part.
It means I have to go back and now call them and say, you know, "We didn't find anything today.
"We looked, but no... No leads."
(sniffs) MAN (speaking Spanish): (people speaking Spanish) MAN 2: MAN 3: MAN 4: (thunder rumbling) MAN 5: MAN 5: MAN 5: MAN 5: (thunder rumbles) (indistinct chatter) MAN: GUSTAVO: MAN 2: (man speaking Spanish in background) (phone vibrating) (indistinct talking continues) (phone stops vibrating) GUSTAVO: Hello.
WOMAN: (camera clicks) (presiding officer speaking Spanish) (door creaking, footsteps) S ÁNCHEZ: WOMAN: (cameras clicking, woman continues) (train sounds drowning out press conference audio) (camera clicking) (train sounds continue) (camera clicking) JOURNALIST: GUSTAVO: JOURNALIST: JOURNALIST: (Gustavo laughs) JOURNALIST: - Sí.
(both speaking Spanish) (car horn honking) (beeping) (copier running) WOMAN: What I was doing before you guys came in is basically just making a list of all of the unidentified, um, since he disappeared, where we still don't have the anthro report.
Now, some of these-- so, this is the list so far.
I highly doubt that any of those are gonna be somebody that young.
DE LE ÓN: Sure.
- Because, again, I would have expected to be alerted of that.
This is the forensic anthropology report, seeing it's a biological profile, the age range, ancestry, stature.
So, depending on the case, that's kind of, I'll... As a quick rule-out... DE LE ÓN: Yeah.
- I'll just move on whenever I see an age range.
DE LE ÓN: His mom calls me all the time.
She texts me a lot, and they're constantly saying, you know, "What's going on?"
And I think it would be helpful for them if I, if I could kind of go back with information and say, "This is sort of typically how these things sort of work," like, this is, this is what you guys have done so far, this is sort of standard operating procedure, and, um, this is kind of what they could expect to, you know, when they ask, like, "What is going on?"
The reality is that there are so many problems with the databases that exist because we basically can't utilize what's out there.
DE LE ÓN: Sure.
- Because these people are crossing the border and they're undocumented.
They're not considered, you know, viable to go into these databases for a number of reasons, which is really frustrating.
DE LE ÓN: Sure.
- So that means that we've got to build and fund our own.
And right now, we still don't have one that keeps us on top of all of the cases.
So we have to, like, actually go in and touch the case to update the search.
This person's female, so that... might be a possibility.
Um... DE LE ÓN: At what point do people just kind of say, you know, "This... this person is dead, "and we're never going to know what happened "and we just need to do... We need to have some, some sort of closure"?
Um... WOMAN: As far as families of the missing?
- Yeah, sort of, like, just, I mean, do you find that it's just this continuous sort of...?
WOMAN: I don't think I've ever talked to a family that has gotten to what you're describing.
(papers shifting) (indistinct chatter) (people talking, children playing in background) MAN (speaking Spanish): MAN 2: (needle buzzing, faint music in background) (tattoo needle buzzing) MAN: (children playing, laughter) MAN: MAN 2: (talking indistinctly) MAN: MAN 2: (indistinct chatter) (chatter continues) (movie playing in background) (hair clipper buzzing) (scissors clipping) (train passing slowly) (wheels squealing) GUSTAVO: ROSI: GUSTAVO: (Rosi cackles, both speaking Spanish) GUSTAVO: (Gustavo exhales, Rosi speaking Spanish) GUSTAVO: ROSI: - Hmm.
ROSI: GUSTAVO: ROSI: (Gustavo speaks Spanish, Rosi responds) ROSI: (cell phone rings) GUSTAVO: MOTHER (on phone): ROSI and GUSTAVO: MOTHER: GUSTAVO: MOTHER: GUSTAVO: ROSI: MOTHER: ROSI: MOTHER: GUSTAVO: ROSI: MOTHER: MOTHER: ROSI: MOTHER: GUSTAVO: (mother laughing) MOTHER: (Gustavo and mother speaking Spanish) DE LE ÓN (speaking Spanish): Okay, bye-bye.
DE LE ÓN (speaking Spanish): JOSE'S MOTHER: (drumming steadily) (playing rapidly and skillfully) (drumming continues, cymbals crashing) (drumming fades out) (bird screeches) (Mexican music playing) (indistinct chatter in Spanish) MAN (singing in Spanish): (man joins in): (continue singing) (song ends) MAN: OLD MAN: (laughing) SINGER: (laughing) SINGER: (laughter) (indistinct chatter, flies buzzing) (woman speaking Spanish on radio) WOMAN (on radio): MAN: (chatting indistinctly) GUSTAVO: ROSI: GUSTAVO: ROSI: GUSTAVO: ROSI: GUSTAVO: ROSI: GUSTAVO: ROSI: (small bell ringing) (kids playing in distance) ROSI and VENDOR: ROSI: (bell ringing, children playing) (insects buzzing, birds chirping) DE LE ÓN: For many years, there have been an immense amount of speculation about what happens to migrant bodies.
People would say the bodies that we recover, that's probably a good metric for who's dying out here, and that was based on nothing.
This research is trying to provide really hard scientific data on the decomposition process.
And one of the things that we've been arguing is that a lot of people die out here, and they disappear.
So part of this work is to demonstrate the numbers of fatalities that we have at the medical examiner's office are low.
WOMAN (softly): Okay, let's see... (murmuring) (gunshot) (wings fluttering) WOMAN: We're just gonna put her head right... About flush to the post... (insects buzzing, birds chirping) DE LE ÓN: 99% of the scavenging is done by vultures.
We had one animal that went from fully fleshed and clothed to completely skeletonized, with the clothing and the bones spread upwards of something like 35 meters... WOMAN: Ready?
One, two, three...
DE LE ÓN: ...in a day and a half.
(bird cawing) (wind blowing) (insects buzzing, birds chirping) (birds chirping, insects buzzing on recording) (flies buzzing) WOMAN: So there's nine seed pits, and then we have to find out what the green ones are.
MAN: Yeah WOMAN 2: This-- we tried them.
WOMAN 1: These are unripe.
You have the half-bottles that they used for cups.
MAN: Okay... WOMAN 1: There's a fruit bag, there's, uh, negros frijoles.
We've got, uh, burned water bottles, the melted water bottles.
WOMAN 2: Like, for boiling water?
WOMAN 1: Yeah, for boiling water.
MAN: Isn't that a Vicks VapoRub?
WOMAN 1: That's for when they're sick, but they're also putting it on their tattoos.
(guitar strumming, distant chatter) DE LE ÓN (speaking Spanish): MAN 1: MAN 2: (phone ringing) (woman speaking Spanish on phone) (man and woman speaking on phone) (stirring) GUSTAVO: GUSTAVO and MAN: GUSTAVO: (distant crowd chatter) (distant music) (indistinct chatter, music playing) (birds chirping) (train approaching) (train rumbling) (water sloshing) ♪ ♪