Mortality is mapped to gain a grasp of geographical distributions of illnesses over space. The mapping of death helps to embody the pathways of disease, and allow us to see otherwise inapparent vectors of transmission, which have historically provided crucial ways to assign meanings to a disease’s effects and pathways. Even before the bacillus of a disease might be known or seen, the founder of modern epidemiology, John Snow, critiqued miasmatic theories of contagion by mapping the distribution with which cholera spread across London neighborhoods during the 1854 London epidemic, visualizing the disease as a social network of contagion by a dot map of neighborhood outbreaks that used a dot map to as proof that “nearly all the deaths had taken place within a short distance of the [Broad Street] pump” whose water was a vector of transmission. Far lesser incidence of deaths form cholera near other street-pumps provided a new way to grasp infection and disease.
The dot map of the deaths of migrants creates no such clear distribution, and has no sense of transmission form a single site. But it forces us to acknowledge the deep problems of the criminalization of immigration on the Mexican-US frontier by charging its human costs. The sites of mortality from hunger and thirst are tragically dispersed over a far great undefined space, but embody the human costs of existing border policy. Bodies of migrants that were stopped during the course of their attempts to reach a new life in the US were clustered at a distance from the border but reveal the amazing distances many undocumented migrants travel before they collapse, without food, and most often out thirst and dehydration–in ways that force the viewer to scrutinize its mute surface of dots against a deceptively pastel base map in hopes to glean the stories of the individual migrants whose lives ended far earlier than necessary, and the stories of whose travails and travels can never be told, and is reduced to the finality of a bright red dot, arresting attention but disarmingly flat. Over 2,000 dead migrants whose bodies were retrieved at a significant distance from the border suggest their desperation to make their way across the border by clandestine routes, and the extreme climactic difficulties that they face, with few adequate provisions for crossing deserts whose expanse they feel forced to travel to search for jobs–and increasingly by risking their lives to do so. This is only a fraction of those who have actually died attempting to travel north, leaving detritus and lost objects in their wake that only beg deciphering.
The terrifying distribution of migrants’ deaths near to the US-Mexico border over a decade are not tied to one place, but congregate along the borer itself, from which they bleed into the edge of the nation in ways that strikes one in the gut. Their striking distribution in a set of overlapping red dots suggest the accumulation of a terrifying loss of life.
The deaths of migrants raise compelling questions about how we have allowed or tolerated the multiplication of the deaths of migrants who undertake cross-border transit, and the inhumanity of compelling migrants to undertake arduous voyages across long, uninhabited stretches of land and undue difficulties. The maps invite us to with the scale of the loss of life and a universal problem of processing the undocumented, and compel us to try to arrive at a better process for managing the nation’s borders, based less on strategies of exclusion: one is left silent trying to process the 2,000 corpses of migrants who died attempting to cross the border between Mexico and the United States–many found in different states of decomposition in the Sonora desert near Arizona‘s borderline with Mexico. For the pathways of many migrants trying to circumvent increased border patrols has transformed the lands of many state counties into killing fields. The recent plans to augment the place of stationed surveillance agents along the border by Donald Trump will not only compel more cross-border transits to be planned and accomplished, but place undue duress on the even greater difficulties to evade surveillance in the expanded borderlands through the interruptions of built boundary walls, and those who attempt to avoid apprehension or detection by travels through the desert.
Already Built Barriers and Walls (2013)
Mapping these deaths over the past decade reveals less of a single cause than something of a social pathology of heightened strategies of law enforcement: despite increased border patrols, motion sensors, and new border fences, the Department of Homeland Security has been forced to create temporary morgues in refrigerated semi-trailers to accommodate remains, mobilizing forensic experts, and posing problems of mitigating migrant deaths. Despite recent attempts to help migrants who travel through the high desert in an attempt to reach a highway where they can be met by setting up conspicuous water towers, mounting body counts have come to task the resources of many Texas and Arizona counties like Brooks County in southeastern Texas or Pima county in Arizona. Even after autopsies and DNA sampling and identification, most of the one to two hundred corpses found so far in 2013 are unidentified. The corpses suggest the crisis of the border as it exists is a crisis of management, as much as of policing, and of adequate supervision and attention to migration problems.
The remains of those attempting to cross the border make only the point of testing one’s sense of humanity against the recurrent tragedies and human casualties of the failure to deal with our borders. The below map locates tragic deaths of migrants attempting to cross of the border, noted in red dots, against water stations placed in the region. While there can be less of a single cause of these , poses problems of responding to their spike over the thirteen years.
The semantics of this map of migrant deaths across the Sonoran desert, a poster for Humane Borders/Fronteras Compasivas, bears contemplation: whereas a map registers an abstraction of space removed from particularities, and a border line demarcates imaginary lines between states, often drawn by surveyors with adequate surveying tools, bounding regional entities of abstract names, the abundant red dots are markers of individual migrants’ deaths, and register actual effects of a erecting an insurmountable fence along the border-line.
Leaving aside the many documented instances of mistreatment by border patrols, the recent rise of deaths by starvation or dehydration raise questions about the defense of borders. Despite diminishing net migration across the border in recent years, the discovery of remains of some two hundred bodies of migrants each year in the Sonora desert, as measured by the Arizona Recovered Human Remains Project, roughly a third of which remain unidentified, indicate divergences between the law’s intent and its effects.
The mapping of border deaths of migrants, many clustered against the border that they had crossed, make a case against our failure to formulate a comprehensive border policy as obstinately as individual migrants’ remains.
It’s morally difficult to absorb the evidence of individual deaths, which densely overlap with one another near the border in a red field, let alone the skeletal remains of individuals who never made the cross-border travel successfully: it’s perhaps impossible to sum up the loss of lives in maps charting the record numbers of migrant deaths around the Mexican-US border, dramatically risen to record highs since 2003, during the year after they were strengthened and reinforced at considerable expense.
What has such attention to the border with Mexico accomplished? In the past year alone, US Border Patrols apprehended some 356,000 immigrants as they attempted to cross the boundary line illegally, considered to be roughly half of all attempts–at least 43% are likely to try to cross again; immigration reform has lent new urgency to migrants’ repeated attempts to try to cross the border after repeated detentions, moreover, since a “path to citizenship” would require prior residence. (Roughly over 60% of such attempted migrants are construction or agricultural workers, largely male, half of whom claimed to have waiting jobs.)
This raises interesting questions of the ethics of mapping migrant deaths. The number of deaths due to drowning, dehydration, or other accident occur as migrants try to secure a path across the border the United States shares with Mexico, and are pressed to seek routes of relocation across the desert or Rio Grande that evade American authorities who have come to police the zone–a region that is now policed as if in imaginary defense of the boundaries of the Old West or mythical frontier of the “fatal environment” that leads ranchers to ride horses beside Homeland Security officers, largely for symbolism or show.