Mourning as Resistance: Seeing and Hearing the Borderlands through Vistas de la Frontera

On September 9, 2020 an unidentified migrant body was recovered on public lands about five miles from Three Points, Arizona. Behind a shooting range, the open lands are seemingly untrammeled with very few roads and no evidence of cattle. According to the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, the body had been there for over 6-8 months. While there is no current indication of who this person was, there is a possibility they will be identified through the course of forensic examination. Barring any clarifying information, this person will remain one of the approximately 1,000 unidentified migrant bodies recovered in Southern Arizona (Colibrí Center for Human Rights).

Vistas de la Frontera is an interactive project that makes visible the sights and sounds of some of the places where migrant bodies have been recovered from 2001 to the present. Using 360 technologies, Vistas de la Frontera allows users to experiences some of the places were migrant bodies have been recovered and to see how the environment is part of borderlands policy. Users are encouraged to interact with each of the places as a means of acknowledging the life lost there. Not all the places are distant as many show roads, cars, and are within a close proximity to help. But many are hard to reach – they are isolated and beautiful places where migration happens out of sight.

More than 3,000 migrant remains have been recovered in the Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona since the implementation of Prevention through Deterrence (or PTD) in 1994 (Humane Borders Migrant Death Map). PTD worked to fortify the border in major metropolitan areas with the effect of pushing migrants into hostile landscapes making their movement invisible to a larger public. As anthropologist Jason de León writes in his book, The Land of Open Graves, “the desert is a tool of boundary enforcement and a strategic layer of border crossers” (De León 67). PTD is a passive policy that utilizes the environment to not only make migration dangerous, but to erase the bodies of migrants who have died during the journey. The harshness of the desert is an important part of PTD because “with enough time, a person left to rot on the ground can disappear completely” (De León 67).