In the aftermath of Trumps executive order to separate illegal immigrant children from their parents on the U.S. – Mexico Border, the U.S. government is scrambling to reunite the families. The Wall Street Journal reported on July 6th, that the Trump Administration asked for an extension for the task as they “are still struggling to match some children whose familial relationships are unclear or whose parents are no longer in federal custody.”
The spotlight on this policy’s enactment has given the American public concrete proof of an immigration policy gone wrong. Breaking up families goes against fundamental values of humanity, it is a rallying cry and obvious to judge as bad policy. Trump’s statements and actions demonstrate that his views on immigration are crude and blatant, however they are not necessarily more extreme than other violent policies, such as Prevention through Deterrence, that have already been in place since the 1990s.
Meet Jason de Leon: an anthropology professor at the University of Michigan, a McArthur Genius Fellow, a founding board member of the Institute for Field Research, and most importantly for the topic of this article, the director and founder of the Undocumented Migration Project. Applying his training as an archaeologist, de Leon spearheaded the study of the material remains left by migrants as they attempt to cross into the U.S. in search for a better life. Since 2009, the Undocumented Migration Project (UMP) has functioned as a long-term anthropological analysis of clandestine border crossing between Northern Mexico and Southern Arizona, and has provided unprecedented insights to the human cost of U.S. immigration policy.
Archaeology can seem very niche and removed from our present reality at times. Far from this, de Leon’s work brings to the forefront the critical need for research to make sense of political decisions and cultural values that are on display in present times. As humans we tend to react to the results of policy and history at a gut level rather than distancing ourselves so as to view the larger context – this happens, as it often takes years of retrospective and multidisciplinary research to fully understand why things are the way they are. The brazenness of Trump in some ways is a blessing when it comes to policy about immigration. The public has long been complacent to the brutal reality of the U.S.-Mexico border, which our policy makers have done a remarkable job of keeping hidden. The Border Trilogy Podcast, featuring Jason de Leon, is an engaging listen that highlights lost stories, hidden rationales, and little-known policy decisions that reveals the much more complex picture of the U.S. immigration conflict that is too often simplified into news bites. We hope you take the time to listen.
The Border Trilogy Part 1, 2, and 3.