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Colibri Center for Human Rights debuts with Saturday screening

Home of the most comprehensive data about missing border crossers and unidentified remains along the U.S.-Mexico border, the Tucson-based Colibri Center for Human Rights will celebrate their opening with the local premiere of award-winning film "Who is Dayani Cristal?" on Saturday.

The event, 6:30 p.m. at The Loft Cinema, will include a question-and-answer session featuring Colibri's cofounders Robin Reineke and William Masson, film director Marc Silver, and staff from the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner.

Silver and producer Gael Garcia Bernal's documentary features the work of Pima's ME office in identifying the remains of border crossers. Tickets to the screening and discussion are $9.25.

Colibri, which is supported by the Ford Foundation, works closely with the Medical Examiner and runs an internship program in collaboration with the University of Arizona’s Honor’s College.

The Colibri Center uses data collected from families of missing persons and items found in their work in the desert to help identify unknown bodies discovered in the desert of Southern Arizona.

Working to identify remains and reunite families made the human costs clear to everyone involved, including the families waiting for answers and the staff who work to close each case. Reineke and Masson hope that as well as making more identifications, the center will also help spread awareness about the effects of border policies.

In what has been described as a funnel effect, illegal border crossings in Southern Arizona began to rise after U.S. immigration officials implemented tougher border enforcement through Operation Gatekeeper in California and Operation Hold the Line in Texas in the 1990s.

Combined with increased patrols and other security measures, border crossers found themselves on foot in increasingly remote and dangerous landscapes - and fatalities rose quickly, to 463 reported by Border Patrol in fiscal year 2012. Many of the bodies are discovered by local ranchers, hikers and law enforcement.

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Many remains are difficult to identify when found, and families of those missing are often hesitant to report disappearances. This has contributed to Pima County having one of the highest rates of unidentified bodies nationally.

The key to solving these cases usually lies in linking the families of missing persons to the Medical Examiner staff to confirm identities through indicators including clothing, scars, tattoos, dental work and DNA tests.

“One of the key challenges to creating better border policies is the lack of understanding of the human cost of current border policies,” Reineke said in a press release for the center's launch. “Colibri is uniquely positioned to inform the public and policy-makers alike of the human rights crisis on the border.”

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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Colibri Center for Human Rights

Robin Reineke, co-founder and executive director of the Colibri Center for Human Rights.

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