Reflections on ‘The Undocumented Migration Project’ – Nadine Andersen.

On Friday the 17th of September, Aarhus University hosted Jason De León and Hostile Terrain 94. It was an impactful lecture in which Jason presented his research and relayed the stories of migrants who had died trying to cross the US-Mexico border. His research project, the Undocumented Migration Project, has used a combination of forensic, archaeological, and ethnographic approaches to understanding the various forms of violence that characterise the social process of clandestine migration. De León argued that the way that bodies decompose in the harsh environment found in the desert is a form of hidden political violence. The presentation was powerful and left many emotional about the injustices that occurred to the migrants. For example, I was baffled when I learned that leaving water out for the migrants is illegal. Can you seriously not even passively aid those in need? 

Jason De León’s work highlights the impact that policies can have. In 1994, the United States Border Patrol launched the immigration enforcement strategy known as “Prevention Through Deterrence” (PTD). This ensured heightened security at the border, forcing desperate undocumented migrants to take dangeorus routes. As a result of this policy, more than 3400 people have died. This death toll conveys the success of the policy as migrants indeed have been prevented from crossing and forced to take dangerous routes. Just think about that for a minute. Success here can be measured in deaths. I was impacted when Jason put it that way. I will forever appreciate the importance of reflecting on the realities of policy implications, on just how much they actually can change people’s lives – both for the better and for worse…

The week prior to the event, we students had participated in writing out several hundreds of toe tags. It was a powerful and daunting task to physically write out the names and information of those who had perished during their migration. The exhibition ‘Hostile Terrain 94’ was officially inaugurated at Vandrehallen, showcasing the roughly 3400 handwritten toe tags representing migrants who have died trying to cross the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. 

Prevention Through Deterrence is still the primary border enforcement strategy being used on the US-Mexico border today. I was left thinking about the security aspects of the problem, and I have yet to place my reflections in words. I keep asking, security for who? Security from what? Migration is not a new dilemma; we humans have dealt with or experienced migration for centuries. This event left me more aware of the humanitarian crisis at America’s southern border. It also left me thinking about how the problem can be translated to a European context. Replace the desert with the mediterranean sea, increase the death toll, identify various policies and an apparent us vs them dichotomy. And once again, ask yourself; security for who and from what? I sincerely hope we in the future can do better, both as policymakers and as human beings. 

(The above article reflects my own personal reflections and does not represent AU).

– Nadine Andersen.

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