The Land of Open Graves: Understanding the Current Politics of Migrant Life and Death along the US-Mexico Border
Since the mid-1990s, the U.S. federal government has relied on a border enforcement strategy known as “Prevention Through Deterrence.” Using various security infrastructure and techniques of surveillance, this strategy funnels undocumented migrants toward remote and rugged terrain such as the Sonoran Desert of Arizona with the hope that mountain ranges, extreme temperatures and other “natural” obstacles will deter people from unauthorized entry. Hundreds of people perish annually while undertaking this dangerous activity. Since 2009, the Undocumented Migration Project has used a combination of forensic, archaeological and ethnographic approaches to understand the various forms of violence that characterize the social process of clandestine migration. In this presentation, De León focuses on what happens to the bodies of migrants who die in the desert. Drawing on the archaeological concept of taphonomy (i.e., the various post-mortem processes that impact biological remains), he argues that the way that bodies decompose in this environment is a form of hidden political violence that has deep ideological roots. Using ethnographic data from New York and Ecuador, he focuses on the families of people who have lost loved ones in the desert and demonstrates how the post-mortem destruction of migrant corpses creates devastating forms of long-lasting trauma.
Jason De León is executive director of the nonprofit organization Undocumented Migration Project, a long-term anthropological study of clandestine migration between Latin America and the United States, and author of the award-winning book The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail. He is president of the board of directors for the Colibrí Center for Human Rights and on the academic board for the Institute for Field Research, a nonprofit organization operating over 42 field schools in 25 countries across the globe.Full Event Details