Crossing the border between Mexico and the United States without authorization is now a life-threatening journey. Whereas once, undocumented migrants — the majority from Mexico and Central America — entered the U.S. through border cities, they now must walk long distances through harsh and sparsely inhabited terrain. This historic geographic shift in unauthorized border traffic is the result of Border Patrol operations in the late 1990s, which aimed to shift border crossers away from urban centers and into remote rural areas. The Coalición de Derechos Humanos (2010) estimates that 5,000 bodies have been recovered from the southern U.S. borderlands. View Report
As undocumented migrants travel north, they transform the landscape in small, yet significant ways through the things they leave behind, from shelters and shrines to quotidian objects. Water bottles, food, medications, clothes, as well as objects with personal meaning such as family photographs, books, religious cards and candles, and hand-embroidered cloths (bordados) are lost, discarded, or deposited along the way, producing cultural landscapes signaling intimate experiences as well as personal and collective identifications.
How and why do migrants rearrange landscapes, marking them with signs of everyday necessities, spiritualities, and homes? In what ways do such cultural landscapes make claims to space in the context of highly charged contests over national belonging in the U.S.? Do landscapes of migration play a part in forming a collective identity for a people made invisible by U.S. immigration policies? To contemplate these questions, we draw your attention to three figures that recur in the photographs: the Virgin Mary, fences, and water bottles.
The following organizations offer information about human rights, environmental protection, migrant artifacts, and border security in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.
- Coalición de Derechos Humanos
- No More Deaths
- Humane Borders
- Defenders of Wildlife
- Border Film Project
- Border Stories, A Mosaic Documentary
- Border Action Network
- The Undocumented Migration Project
The following references offer additional information about the landscapes of migration and U.S. border security.
Jason De León (2012) Better to be hot than caught: Excavating the conflicting roles of migrant material culture. American Anthropologist 114(3): 477–495.
Defenders of Wildlife. 2006. On The Line: The Impacts of Immigration Policy on Wildlife and Habitat in the Arizona Borderlands. Washington, DC: Defenders of Wildlife. View Report
Joseph Nevins. 2008. Dying to Live: a story of US immigration in an age of global apartheid. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Publishers.
Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith, M. Melissa McCormick, Daniel Martinez, Inez Magdalena Duarte. 2006. The “funnel effect” and recovered bodies of unauthorized migrants processed by the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, 1990–2005. The Binational Migration Institute, University of Arizona. View Report
Juanita Sundberg. 2008. “Trash-Talk” and the Production of Quotidian Geopolitical Boundaries in the United States-Mexico Borderlands, Social & Cultural Geography, 9(8) pp. 871–890.
U.S. Government Accountability Office. 2006. Illegal Immigration: Border-Crossing Deaths Have Doubled Since 1995; Border Patrol’s Efforts to Prevent Deaths Have Not Been Fully Evaluated. View Report
U.S. Government Accountability Office. 2004. Border Security. Agencies Need to Better Coordinate Their Strategies and Operations on Federal Lands. View Report