Texas has become the deadliest state for undocumented immigrants. In 2012, 271 migrants died while crossing through Texas, surpassing Arizona as the nation’s most dangerous entry point. The majority of those deaths didn’t occur at the Texas-Mexico border but in rural Brooks County, 70 miles north of the Rio Grande, where the US Border Patrol has a checkpoint. To circumvent the checkpoint, migrants must leave the highway and hike through the rugged ranchlands. Hundreds die each year on the trek, most from heat stroke.
The Guardian partnered with the Texas Observer for an in-depth look at the lives impacted by the humanitarian crisis north of the border. To complement text written by Texas Observer reporter Melissa del Bosque, the Guardian built a special four-part series, including video and interactive graphics.
Each part of the series, rolled out over four weeks in August 2014, explores the perspective of a different individual or group who has been impacted by the crisis.
Part one follows the path of an undocumented immigrant named Exelina Hernandez as she attempts to get to the US. Interactive elements include a series of charts, 3D maps, and animations that illuminate Exelina’s dangerous journey from El Salvador to the Brooks County brush.
In part two, a coyote’s cell phone, uncovered by a Guardian journalist, offers an intimate glimpse into the human trafficking trade. We created an elegant interface to display messages, providing a rare look into the lives of the smugglers and the smuggled.
In part three, we explain why so many migrants die in south Texas and how the remains of the deceased found in the Brooks County brush are identified. We designed a series of memorial cards for 294 migrants found dead by the Brooks County Sheriff’s Office. Each one highlights the items worn or carried by the migrant.
In part four, we explore Brooks County’s struggle to cope with the migrant crisis given limited resources. We created a zooming map of Falfurrias, TX, home of the checkpoint migrants strive to avoid. We used a WebGL renderer, which allowed for smoother zooms than had been possible with earlier technologies. The creators of the mapping technology praised the interactive.
The series is “an excellent example of digital/multimedia journalism, beautifully presented and nuanced in its content,” Luis Marentes, associate professor of Spanish at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told PRI when he chose Beyond the Border as a must-read of 2014.