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Fronteras: U.S. immigration policy ‘weaponizes the desert,’ causing more migrant deaths on the border

Michael Wells
Shirt left behind by migrants in the Arizona desert.

The U.S. government is quick to displace blame when migrants die attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

“The argument that the government makes is that ‘migrants do this to themselves, it's not our fault that people die in the desert,’” said anthropologist Jason De León. “But what I've been arguing for a long time is that we have a policy in place. It's called Prevention through Deterrence. It weaponizes the desert. It forcibly pushes people towards places like the Arizona desert or the South Texas backwoods, so that folks will have to walk for days and days.”

Michael Wells
Jason De León, executive director of the Undocumented Migration Project

De León is executive director of the Undocumented Migration Project and is a professor of anthropology and Chicana/o Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

He recently authored a UCLA-funded study that explores government complicity in migrant mortality, and the effects of heat and dehydration on the human body.

De León argues that government policy has long played a part in migration from Latin America.

“Places like Honduras have become unlivable because of (decades of) U.S. interventionist policies,” he said. “We can think about the ways in which NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) has just devastated the Mexican economy.”

De León is the author of “Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail.”

Hear part one of our conversation with De León here.

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Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1