The bodies of migrants who died trying to cross the US-Mexico border are being kept in a refrigerated container near the Rio Grande because the local funeral home can longer store them, a Texas sheriff says.
Maverick County Sheriff Tom Schmerber has been working with consulate staff to identify five bodies frozen in the container so they can be returned to their loved ones, he said.
Three from Mexico and one from Honduras have been identified so far. “Now, I’m a funeral director too,” Schmerber said.
A record number of migrants have died crossing the border in the past year, figures shared with CNN by the Department of Homeland Security in September showed. Nearly 750 migrants had died at the southern border this fiscal year – surpassing last year’s total by more than 200, according to the DHS figures.
In August, the sight of migrant bodies floating onshore or turning up in the surrounding ranchland had become an almost everyday occurrence as the number of migrants attempting the crossing continued to rise, Schmerber told CNN.
Schmerber said he obtained the container last month after speaking with local funeral director Rito Valdez.
Valdez, director of the Memorial Funeral Home in Eagle Pass, said the home was no longer able to store the bodies of immigrants.
About a month and a half ago he was storing the bodies of 25 migrants in the funeral home – and became concerned about the liability of storing corpses for the county, he said. Around the same time, the office of the Webb County medical examiner, which serves Maverick County, stopped taking the bodies of migrants because the facility was over capacity, Valdez told CNN.
“I’m not a morgue. I’m just a funeral home,” said Valdez.
Valdez still picks up bodies from around the county and delivers them to the container that the Maverick County sheriff now maintains, he said.
Migrants face life-threatening challenges when crossing the border, including oppressive heat, dangerous water crossings and the risk of falling from the border wall.
CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this report.