Largely understaffed, Mexico's investigators struggle to identify the nation's nearly 100,000 missing people, whose cases the government vowed in 2018 to resolve with the creation of a National Search Commission, according to the Associated Press. Drug cartel violence, some of it just across the U.S. border and much of it tied to the profits from smuggling drugs to the U.S., often depends on erasing the evidence of murders by incinerating bodies or burying them in mass graves. When the commission was created, its goal was 352 employees, but to date it only has 89, and hundreds of investigations into disappearances have failed to result in prosecutions. “We take care of one case and 10 more arrive,” said Oswaldo Salinas, head of the Tamaulipas state identification team.
Much of the unidentified human remains are buried in large sections of desert called "extermination sites," where cartels burn, dissolve or bury victims. In one such site, around 75,000 square feet in size, investigators collect bone fragments, teeth and limbs to send back to a lab in state capital Ciudad Victoria. Fifteen such sites have been discovered, with one turning up more than 1,100 pounds of bones. Most of the extermination sites have been found by family members who follow up leads themselves with or without the support and protection of authorities. Such search groups exist in nearly every state. Discovery and successful identification of a victim can be both a relief and deeply troubling for family members. “It brings together a lot of emotions,” said a woman who had been searching for her husband and two brothers. “It makes you happy to find (a site), but at the moment you see things the way they are, you nosedive.”