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The Land of Open Graves

Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail

Jason De Leon (Author), Michael Wells (Photographer)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 384 pages
ISBN: 9780520282759
October 2015
$29.95, £24.00
Other Formats Available:
In his gripping and provocative debut, anthropologist Jason De León sheds light on one of the most pressing political issues of our time—the human consequences of US immigration policy.  The Land of Open Graves reveals the suffering and deaths that occur daily in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona as thousands of undocumented migrants attempt to cross the border from Mexico into the United States.

Drawing on the four major fields of anthropology, De León uses an innovative combination of ethnography, archaeology, linguistics, and forensic science to produce a scathing critique of “Prevention through Deterrence,” the federal border enforcement policy that encourages migrants to cross in areas characterized by extreme environmental conditions and high risk of death. For two decades, this policy has failed to deter border crossers while successfully turning the rugged terrain of southern Arizona into a killing field.

In harrowing detail, De León chronicles the journeys of people who have made dozens of attempts to cross the border and uncovers the stories of the objects and bodies left behind in the desert.

The Land of Open Graves will spark debate and controversy.
1. Prevention Through Deterrence
2. Dangerous Ground
3. Necroviolence
4. Memo and Lucho
5. Deported
6. Technological Warfare
7. The Crossing
8. Exposure
9. You Can’t Leave Them Behind
10. Maricela
11. We Will Wait until You Get Here
12. Epilogue
Appendix A. Border Patrol Apprehensions, Southern Border Sectors, 2000–2014
Appendix B. Border Patrol Apprehensions, Tucson Sector, by Distance from the Border, Fiscal Years 2010 and 2011
Jason De León is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan and Director of the Undocumented Migration Project, a long-term anthropological study of clandestine border crossings between Mexico and the United States. His academic work has been featured in numerous media outlets, including National Public Radio, the New York Times Magazine, Al Jazeera magazine, The Huffington Post, and Vice magazine. In 2013, De León was named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer.
"The Land of Open Graves is hard to put down. Its violent and vivid content draws you into a reality that we should all know about, and the author's interpretation provides a political and theoretical perspective that challenges conventional beliefs about undocumented migration."—TLS
"A powerful book . . . The Land of Open Graves is very appropriately published in the California Series in Public Anthropology and represents just what public or engaged anthropology can and should be. . . . This is a book that all parties should read."—Anthropology Review Database
"De Leon's text is remarkable in its use of mixed and novel methods, alongside an honest discussion of the reasoning and motiviations that inspire his work."—Migration Studies
"Important and gut-wrenching . . . [De Leon's] engagement with illegal immigration through photography, archeology, forensic science, linguistics, and ethnography is revitalizing in its full encapsulation and acknowledgement of its complexity. . . . I wholly recommend this book."—Border Criminologies
"Everyone should read this book... De León introduces readers to a world that they likely either do not know or wish they could forget."—Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books
"De León confronts us with a vivid indictment of the killing fields on the US-Mexico border and reveals the brutality of global inequality in all its goriness and intimate suffering. A self-described refugee from archaeology, De León is revitalizing the field of anthropology by blowing apart the traditional subdisciplinary boundaries. With no holds barred, he offers new paths for theory, methods, and public anthropology." —Philippe Bourgois, author of Righteous Dopefiend and In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio

"Jason De León has written a remarkable book. I know of no other ethnography of life and death on the borderlands that is more moving, theoretically ambitious, or powerful than this eagerly awaited work." —María Elena García, author of Making Indigenous Citizens: Identities, Education, and Multicultural Development in Peru

"This book sears itself into your memory. You literally can’t put it down." —Stanley Brandes, Robert H. Lowie Professor of Anthropology, UC Berkeley

"An impressive piece of scholarship, The Land of Open Graves is a brilliant and important book that humanizes the realities of life and death on the migrant trail in southern Arizona."—Randall H. McGuire, author of Archaeology as Political Action

"Jason De León has written that rare and precious book—a masterful deployment of tools from across the broad spectrum of anthropology." —Danny Hoffman, author of The War Machines: Young Men and Violence in Sierra Leone and Liberia

"The Land of Open Graves is a politically, theoretically, and morally important book that mobilizes the four fields of anthropology to demonstrate beyond a doubt how current US border defense policy results in deliberate death. Beautifully written and engaging, it is a must-read for the general public and students across the social sciences." —Lynn Stephen, author of Transborder Lives: Indigenous Oaxacans in Mexico, California, and Oregon and We Are the Face of Oaxaca: Testimony and Social Movements

"The Land of Open Graves is an invaluable book, one full of rich ethnographic accounts of migrants, sharp analysis, and beautiful photographs by Michael Wells (as well as some by the migrants De León encounters). It is a strong indictment of the violence migrants face, particularly of a structural sort, and it calls us to “better understand how our worlds are intertwined and the ethical responsibility we have to one another as human beings." It deserves a broad audience."—NACLA Report on the Americas

2018 J. I. Staley Prize, School for Advanced Research (SAR)

2017 MacArthur Fellow, MacArthur Foundation

2017 Delmos Jones and Jagna Sharff Memorial Book Award, American Anthropological Association & the Society for Applied Anthropology

Honorable Mention. Association of Latina and Latino Anthropologists Book Award, American Anthropological Association, American Anthropological Association

Margaret Mead Award, American Anthropological Association & the Society for Applied Anthropology

2016 Society for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology Book Award, Society for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology

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