Photo courtesy of the artist
Jason De León is Professor of Anthropology and Chicana/o Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles and Director of the Undocumented Migration Project, a non-profit research-art-education collective focused on documenting and understanding the violent social process of clandestine movement between Latin America and the United States. He is the co-creator of the exhibition State of Exception/Estado de Excepción that focused on the material traces of undocumented movement across the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. His first book The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail was published by the University of California Press in 2015 and was most recently awarded the J.I. Staley Prize from the School for Advanced Research. De León is currently writing his second book (tentatively titled Soldiers and Kings), a photoethnography about the daily lives of Honduran smugglers crossing Mexico. He is a 2017 MacArthur Fellow.
Hostile Terrain 94 (HT94)
Jason De León
Hostile Terrain 94 (HT94) is a prototype of a participatory political art installation organized by the Undocumented Migration Project that will launch in the fall of 2020 in 150 locations around the globe simultaneously. A 20-foot-long map of the Arizona/Mexico border is populated with 3,199 handwritten toe tags that contain information about those who have died while migrating including name (if known), age, sex, cause of death, condition of body, and location. Some tags contain QR and Augmented-Reality codes that link to content related to migrant stories and visuals connected to immigration that can be accessed via cellphone. HT94 is intended to memorialize and bear witness to the thousands who have died as a result of Prevention Through Deterrence.
The most crucial (and interactive) aspect of the installation are the audience members committing their time and energy to meticulously fill out the death details for all 3,199 toe tags and then being assisted in placing these tags in the exact locations on the map where those individuals were found.
In 1994 the U.S. Border Patrol officially launched the immigration enforcement strategy known as “Prevention Through Deterrence.” This policy was designed to discourage undocumented migrants from attempting to cross the border near urban ports of entry. With these traditional crossing points closed off, it was expected that people would then attempt to cross the border illegally in more remote and depopulated regions where the natural environment would act as a deterrent to movement. It was anticipated that the difficulties people experienced while hiking dozens of miles across what the Border Patrol deemed the “hostile terrain” of places like the Sonoran Desert of Arizona would eventually discourage migrants from attempting the journey. This strategy failed to deter border crossers and instead more than six million people have attempted to migrate through the Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona since 2000. At least 3,199 people have died, largely from dehydration and hyperthermia, while attempting this journey through Arizona. Missing person’s reports and forensic evidence suggest that many more have died in the region and their bodies have not been recovered either because they perished in difficult to access locations or because the environment destroyed their remains. Prevention Through Deterrence is still the primary border enforcement strategy being used on the U.S./Mexico border today.