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McAllen Chamber of Commerce’s 84th Legislative Session Wrap-Up Luncheon

Featured, from left: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, greets constituents at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce’s 84th Legislative Session Wrap-Up Luncheon, held on Thursday, July 9, 2015, at the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel in McAllen as Alex Ri?os, the District Director for Canales’ legislative office in Edinburg, looks on.
Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

Efforts to improve the identification process of undocumented immigrants who die while crossing from Mexico into Texas will take center stage in the Rio Grande Valley on Monday, September 28, when the Texas Forensic Science Commission hosts a public meeting at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, has announced. The meeting will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the facility, which is located at 118 Paseo Del Prado, near the intersection of McColl Road and Dove Avenue in southwest Edinburg. The gathering in Edinburg, which is the result of a last- minute amendment on May 26, 2015 by Canales to Senate Bill 1287, will focus on what is known as the Rio Grande Identification Project. The Edinburg lawmaker’s amendment created the Rio Grande Identification Project and requires the Texas Forensic Science Commission – a state agency – “to develop a method for collecting forensic evidence related to the unidentified bodies located less than 120 miles from the Rio Grande River,” Leigh M. Tomlin, with the Texas Forensic Science Commission, stated in an advisory about the Edinburg meeting. “In accordance with its legislative mandate, the commission is working with stakeholders to develop a systematic plan for proper forensic evidence collection of biological material that may help identify human remains found along the border. The goal for the session is to establish best practices in Texas for subsequent publication and dissemination,” Tomlin explained. Canales said an estimated 1,000 immigrants without any identification have died in the Rio Grande Valley during the past 10 years. In the summer of 2014, international attention was focused in deep South Texas with the discovery that mass graves of hundreds of suspected unidentified immigrants were buried haphazardly in a cemetery in Brooks County. In addition, hundreds of immigrants’ bodies have been recovered on the ranches in Brooks County in recent years. Smugglers guide immigrants through the brush trying to circumvent a Border Patrol highway checkpoint an hour’s drive north of the border. There is little water and the walk can take two or three days in punishing temperatures. The House District 4o lawmaker recalled how the Legislature late last spring took action to bring compassion and closure to thousands of families who never know what happened to their love ones who crossed into Texas seeking a better life. “It was spontaneous. I just noticed the subject of the bill and it got me out of my chair,” Canales told reporter Kristian Herna?ndez with the Monitor newspaper in McAllen. “I ran to the front of the House of Representatives and said, ‘I have an amendment to this bill, hold on.’” The passage of his amendment was even more remarkable given the political climate in the Legislature, he noted. “I think it was one of my most exciting moments in the Legislature,” Canales said. “I was a little overjubilant that it passed, especially with the anti-immigrant sentiment that exists in the Texas legislature. I think it’s a great victory.” Canales’ amendment forced the Texas Forensic Science Commission to create a manual for the postmortem examination and identification process of unidentified border crossers, Herna?ndez added. “I think that it’s unquestionable what role immigrants play in our daily lives in our economy,” Canales said. “Not only do we need to respect what they do for our country but we need to respect human life in death.”

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Public hearing for major reforms on how Texas identifies undocumented immigrants who die in the state to be held in Edinburg on Monday, September 28, Rep. Terry Canales announces

By DAVID A. DI?AZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

Efforts to improve the identification process of undocumented immigrants who die while crossing from Mexico into Texas will take center stage in the Rio Grande Valley on Monday, September 28, when the Texas Forensic Science Commission hosts a public meeting at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, has announced.

The meeting will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the facility, which is located at 118 Paseo Del Prado, near the intersection of McColl Road and Dove Avenue in southwest Edinburg.

The gathering in Edinburg, which is the result of a last-minute amendment on May 26, 2015 by Canales to Senate Bill 1287, will focus on what is known as the Rio Grande Identification Project.

The Edinburg lawmaker’s amendment created the Rio Grande Identification Project and requires the Texas Forensic Science Commission – a state agency – “to develop a method for collecting forensic evidence related to the unidentified bodies located less than 120 miles from the Rio Grande River,” Leigh M. Tomlin, with the Texas Forensic Science Commission, stated in an advisory about the Edinburg meeting.

“In accordance with its legislative mandate, the commission is working with stakeholders to develop a systematic plan for proper forensic evidence collection of biological material that may help identify human remains found along the border. The goal for the session is to establish best practices in Texas for subsequent publication and dissemination,” Tomlin explained.

Canales said an estimated 1,000 immigrants without any identification have died in the Rio Grande Valley during the past 10 years.

In the summer of 2014, international attention was focused in deep South Texas with the discovery that mass graves of hundreds of suspected unidentified immigrants were buried haphazardly in a cemetery in Brooks County.

In addition, hundreds of immigrants’ bodies have been recovered on the ranches in Brooks County in recent years. Smugglers guide immigrants through the brush trying to circumvent a Border Patrol highway checkpoint an hour’s drive north of the border. There is little water and the walk can take two or three days in punishing temperatures.

The House District 4o lawmaker recalled how the Legislature late last spring took action to bring compassion and closure to thousands of families who never know what happened to their love ones who crossed into Texas seeking a better life.

“It was spontaneous. I just noticed the subject of the bill and it got me out of my chair,” Canales told reporter Kristian Herna?ndez with the Monitor newspaper in McAllen. “I ran to the front of the House of Representatives and said, ‘I have an amendment to this bill, hold on.’”

The passage of his amendment was even more remarkable given the political climate in the Legislature, he noted.

“I think it was one of my most exciting moments in the Legislature,” Canales said. “I was a little overjubilant that it passed, especially with the anti-immigrant sentiment that exists in the Texas legislature. I think it’s a great victory.”

Canales’ amendment forced the Texas Forensic Science Commission to create a manual for the postmortem examination and identification process of unidentified border crossers, Herna?ndez added.

“I think that it’s unquestionable what role immigrants play in our daily lives in our economy,” Canales said. “Not only do we need to respect what they do for our country but we need to respect human life in death.”

Rio Grande Identification Project

Also according to the Texas Forensic Science Commission:

In accordance with its legislative mandate, the Texas Forensic Science Commission is working with stakeholders to develop a systematic plan for proper forensic evidence collection of biological material that may help identify the individuals found along the border.

The University of North Texas Center for Human Identification has a longstanding relationship with medical examiners and pathologists in South Texas and provides anthropological services to assist in identifying missing persons found near border counties.

Information regarding the anthropological work the Center has completed in the Texas border region can be found in the following report: UNT Center for Human Identification, Texas Border Region: Analysis and Identification of Unidentified Human Remains, Texas Missing Persons DNA Database Laboratory of Forensic Anthropology, (July 2015).

The Center has agreed to work with the Texas Forensic Science Commission and other stakeholders, including Texas State University, Baylor University, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Office of the Governor, the FBI, human rights advocacy groups and local law enforcement partners in developing a process for the collection and testing of forensic evidence related to unidentified remains currently awaiting anthropological exams and unidentified remains that may be discovered in the future.

The mission of the Texas Forensic Commission, according to its website, is to strengthen the use of forensic science in criminal investigations and courts by:

  •  Developing a process for reporting professional negligence or misconduct;
  •  Investigating allegations of professional negligence or misconduct;
  •  Promoting the development of professional standards and training; and
  •  Recommending legislative improvements.

SB 1287, authored by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and sponsored by Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Ft. Worth, and Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 20, 2015.

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Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, represents House District 40 in Hidalgo County. HD 4o includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lo?pezville, McAllen, Pharr, San Carlos and Weslaco. He may be reached at his House District Office in Edinburg at (956) 383-0860 or at the Capitol at (512) 463-0426.

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