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Migrant Deaths Along the California–Mexico Border: An Anthropological Perspective

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California shares a 150-mile international border with Mexico. Traditionally, this border has seen non-stop illegal migration. In the 1990s, the Border Patrol began a concerted effort to establish and maintain control of the border, beginning in urban San Diego. This heightened law enforcement presence, known as Operation Gatekeeper, changed the westernmost segment of the border from the most permeable to the least permeable. This enforcement pushed migrants into more dangerous crossing areas in eastern San Diego and Imperial Counties, making their trip longer and more physically challenging as they made their way through treacherous mountains, deserts, and irrigation canals. Death rates soared. Political decisions impacted human lives and the caseloads of forensic anthropologists in jurisdictions along the border. Bodies decompose rapidly here, and there are minimal sources of antemortem data. Many of these migrants are never identified. This paper, and this symposium, is an attempt to bring this situation to the notice of other anthropologists and to discuss cooperative means of addressing the issue of identification.
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Keywords: California; Mexico; forensic anthropology; forensic sciences; human identification; illegal migration

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Behavioral Science, San Diego Mesa College, San Diego, CA 92111.

Publication date: January 1, 2008

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