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Absent and Present: Biopolitics and the Materiality of Body Counts on the US-Mexico Border

NCJ Number
Journal of Material Culture Dated: 2020
Gabriella Soto
Date Published
12 pages
To probe the process behind the seemingly systematized bureaucratic postmortem disappearance of migrants, this ethnographic case study of local postmortem investigations of migrant deaths at the U.S.-Mexico border examined practices regarding burial or cremation and body discovery.
As the deaths of undocumented migrants expose the violence of border security policies around the globe, a complicated politics emerges between bodily death and the ways in which the migrant association of decedents (dis)appears in vital records - even as many migrants physically disappear during their border crossings. What happens between death and bureaucratic disappearance after a migrant body is discovered? How does the overwhelming material presence of migrant death, someone who dies through an unnecessary and excruciating process such as drowning or dehydration during a border crossing, become not-a-migrant? This article considers these questions by exploring the materiality of body counts at the nexus of biopolitics, forensic anthropology, and material culture studies. 4 figures and 85 references (publisher abstract modified)