Since 1998, at least 7,505 human beings have lost their lives while attempting to cross the U.S.-México border. More than 2,816 people remain disappeared.
In their absence, tens of thousands of families across the United States and Latin America are left with the agonizing uncertainty of not knowing what has happened to their loved ones. In addition to the emotional trauma they face each day, families are denied truth and justice. The consequences of border deaths and disappearances are felt throughout the Americas: families living in 14 countries and in 43 states across the U.S. have reported disappeared relatives to Colibrí.
Colibrí and families of the disappeared — along with medical examiners and other human rights organizations — refuse to let these lives be forgotten. Overcoming enormous challenges to identify the dead, together we search for answers, demand justice, and reunite families with their loved ones — important, unique, and irreplaceable human beings.
The work of the Colibrí Center began in 2006 with the Missing Migrant Project, a small volunteer initiative inside the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner designed to organize information about people who were missing on the border in the hopes that this information would help identify the hundreds of individuals who were being examined by the forensic scientists in that office. This project was a collaboration between Dr. Bruce Anderson, the forensic anthropologist at the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, and Dr. Robin Reineke, a cultural anthropologist and a graduate student at the time.
Building on a legacy
In 2013, Colibrí’s co-founders — Robin Reineke, William Masson, Chelsea Halstead, and Reyna Araibi — grew the Missing Migrant Project into the organization now known as the Colibrí Center for Human Rights, an expanded and more comprehensive effort to address the needs of families of the missing and to continue to work on the cases of missing and unidentified individuals. The work of the Colibrí Center builds on a legacy of humanitarian work in southern Arizona done by organizations such as Coalición de Derechos Humanos, No More Deaths, and Tucson Samaritans, all concerned with upholding human rights and human dignity throughout the borderlands.
Colibrí works in solidarity with the families of disappeared migrants to find truth and justice through forensic science, investigation, and community organizing.
Colibrí bears witness to this unjust loss of life, accompanying families in their search and holding space for families to build community, share stories, and raise awareness about the consequences of border militarization.
Through the Missing Migrant Project and DNA Program, Colibrí works with medical examiners to compare information families provide about the missing as well as DNA samples with unidentified remains recovered along the border in the hopes of giving families the answers they so deserve.
Beyond forensic justice work, Colibrí and impacted families build community and advocate for change through the Family Network, a network of mutual support and solidarity among families and friends of missing migrants across the Americas. The Family Network includes in-person meetings in cities around the U.S., private on-line gathering places, oral history projects, and a quarterly magazine.
In 2009, a man who died crossing the borderlands near Tucson was found and brought to the medical examiner. In his pocket, he carried a small dead hummingbird.
In Spanish, “colibrí” means hummingbird. In some cultures in Latin America, the colibrí is a symbol of strength, hope, and migration. The Colibrí Center for Human Rights was named after the hummingbird in the spirit of its symbolism and in remembrance of this man, the thousands more who have lost their lives on the border, and their families everywhere.