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Mexico funds forensic program

Nov. 16, 2005

by SCARLETT STEAKLEY, reporter

The Mexican government signed a $150,000 check to Baylor's forensic science department Tuesday for its continued DNA analysis of unidentified Mexican immigrants who died crossing into the United States.

Before Mexico offered financial help, "we were just working with what we had left over each month in the forensics department," said Dr. Lori Baker, assistant professor of anthropology, archeology and forensic science. "We had no budget for this at all."

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Henry Chan | Lariat staff
Marco Antonio Fraire, director general of protection of Mexico's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, presents a $150,000 check to Dr. Lori Baker, assistant professor of forensic science and archeology, Tuesday night in the Baylor Sciences Building.
The additional funds will provide Baker and the forensic science department with the ability to purchase supplies designated specifically for this project. It will also give them the capability to work on more cases than before, she said.

The department has begun examining 100 skeletal remains found near Tucson, Ariz., during 2004 and 2005 in the hopes of identifying each person.

DNA information from the remains will be placed into a database containing information on missing persons. The System for the Identification of Remains and Localization of Individuals (SIRLI) was created by the Mexican government over a year ago.

"Each year the Admission of Foreign Affairs receives about 5,500 requests from the Mexican public who ask for the support of the Mexican consulates in the U.S. to locate their relatives," said Marco Antonio Fraire, director general of protection in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "Considering the Mexican population in the U.S. is estimated between 10 and 11 million, you can imagine the kind of task that we have in our hands."

Fraire said there is usually little information given about the loved ones missing. In some cases, it's only a name, which requires the consular offices to put in extensive work to identify the missing person.

"SIRLI is definitely a breakthrough in consular services, in the respect that the percentage of people who are located through this system will rise in the future for the benefit of the Mexican families who are looking for them," he said.

Fraire said the project went through several phases, beginning with the creation of the database and then finding a partner, Baker and Baylor.

"We needed a partner who could provide us with this piece of the puzzle," Fraire said. "A partner with experience and who could contribute with the DNA analysis."

The Mexican consulates and Baylor officials began contact in late 2004.

In February, the Mexican government agreed with Baylor to go forward with their partnership in the identification process. Tuesday they cemented that agreement.

Fraire said the Mexican government will provide the SIRLI service free to all Mexican citizens and immigrants who are in search of loved ones. Those who are searching must first send a request to a Mexican consul office in Mexico or in the U.S., and then their search can begin with SIRLI and now Baylor.

"This is an incredible breakthrough, and the problems in collecting all this information is very difficult," Baker said. "This database is going to provide a significant opportunity for families to receive closure and information."

Baker said Baylor is committed to the global community and proud to be a part of the process and the database.

"We're very excited about the collaboration between Mexico and Baylor and hope to bring closure to more families and to definitely not leave 45 percent of the individuals unidentified," Baker said.

Baker said the forensics department will continue to ask the Mexican government for funding each year with hopes for a continued financial commitment.