All posts by lathamke

Sociopolitics of Migrant Death and Repatriation: Perspectives from Forensic Science

We are pleased to announce a new book, based partly upon our fieldwork in the Texas borderlands, being released this fall!

Sociopolitics of Migrant Death and Repatriation: Perspectives from Forensic Science  Editors: Latham, Krista E., O’Daniel, Alyson J.

© 2017 Springer International Publishing AG

Summary: As scholars have by now long contended, global neoliberalism and the violence associated with state restructuring provide key frameworks for understanding flows of people across national boundaries and, eventually, into the treacherous terrains of the United States borderlands. The proposed volume builds on this tradition of situating migration and migrant death within broad, systems-level frameworks of analysis, but contends that there is another, perhaps somewhat less tidy, but no less important sociopolitical story to be told here.

Through examination of how forensic scientists define, navigate, and enact their work at the frontiers of US policy and economics, this book joins a robust body of literature dedicated to bridging social theory with bioarchaeological applications to modern day problems.

This volume is based on deeply and critically reflective analyses, submitted by individual scholars, wherein they navigate and position themselves as social actors embedded within and, perhaps partially constituted by, relations of power, cultural ideologies, and the social structures characterizing this moment in history.

Each contribution addresses a different variation on themes of power relations, production of knowledge, and reflexivity in practice. In sum, however, the chapters of this book trace relationships between institutions, entities, and individuals comprising the landscapes of migrant death and repatriation and considers their articulation with sociopolitical dynamics of the neoliberal state.

Table of Contents

Forward by Debra Martin

Preface by Robin Reineke

Part I: Beyond Local Jurisdictions: Science in a Global Web of Relations

Chapter 1 – Introduction by Alyson O’Daniel and Krista E. Latham

Chapter 2 – All that Remains by Adriana Paramo

Chapter 3 – Capitalism and Crisis in Central America by Dawn Paley

Chapter 4 – Naming State Crimes, Naming the Dead:  Immigration Policy and “the New Disappeared” in the United States and Mexico by Christine Kovic

Chapter 5 – Loss, Uncertainty and Action: Ethnographic Encounters with Families of the Missing in the Central America-Mexico-US Corridor by Wendy A. Vogt

Chapter 6 – The Geography of Migrant Death: Implications for Policy and Forensic Science by Gabriella Soto and Daniel E. Martínez

Chapter 7 – “Follow the Power Lines Until You Hit a Road:” Contextualizing Humanitarian Forensic Science in South Texas by Alyson O’Daniel

Part II: Producing and Situating Forensic Science Knowledge

Chapter 8 – Digging, Dollars and Drama: The Economics of Forensic Archaeology and Migrant Exhumation by Krista E Latham and Ryan Strand

Chapter 9 – Expanding the Role of Forensic Anthropology in a Humanitarian Crisis: An Example from the United States-Mexico Border by Angela Soler and Jared S. Beatrice

Chapter 10 – Identifying Difference:  Forensic Methods and the Uneven Playing Field of Repatriation by Eric J. Bartelink

Chapter 11 – Bodies in Limbo: Issues in Identification and Repatriation of Migrant Remains in South Texas by Timothy P. Gocha, Kate Spradley and Ryan Strand

Chapter 12 – Dialog across States & Agencies: Juggling Ethical Concerns of Forensic Anthropologists north of the U.S.-Mexico Border by Cate E. Bird and Justin Maiers

Chapter 13 – Charting Future Directions by Krista E. Latham and Alyson O’Daniel


Homeward Bound

Returning home is always bittersweet. We miss our families, pets, beds, etc… and are eager to get back to our normal routines.  But it is also difficult to return home when there is so much more work to be done here Texas. Yesterday, the Texas State group invited us to their hotel for a last night together pool party. It was a great way to come together and celebrate a week of hard work and to unwind together.

We left bright and early for the long drive to the airport. We decided to stop for spiderWhataburer taquitos to eat en route.  About an hour into our journey I see a large furry spider crawling over the vent and towards my hands on the steering wheel. I’m not scared of spiders, but not knowing if it’s poisonous was frightening. So I turn to Erica in the co-pilot seat and ask her what to do. She tells me to pull over and immediately makes a mad dash from the van. She nearly stumbles into a fire ant mound and ends up in a mess of sticker burrs. The spider retreats behind the odometer (meaning we  can’t remove it from the van and now have to drive over 3 hours watching to see if it emerges). We identified it as a jumping spider and read that they rarely bite humans and can jump over 50 times their body length.

As we drove north we had to go through the Falfurrias Border Patrol Checkpoint. We saw the construction work indicating the plans to expand the size of the checkpoint. We decided to make a pit stop in Falfurrias at the gas station next to the hotel where we always stay there. We just couldn’t imagine a trip to South TX without at least a few minutes in Falfurrias! Then we return the rental vehicle and make it to the airport with enough time for a last meal together.

fullsizerender-6It has been a very successful trip to South Texas! We analyzed 9 individuals at the lab at Texas State University and exhumed 5 individuals at the Rio Grande Cemetery. Not only did I have a great team of students that worked hard together as a team to get the work done. But we also had Jorge with us behind the scenes at the hotel each day. It took all of us working together to accomplish as much as we did this trip. Even though we are home, we will continue to post daily blogs for the next week or so. Please keep reading for more on our trip and our reflections.     ~KEL


Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much

There are so many dedicated and hardworking volunteers working in the RGC Cemetery this week on the excavations. There are five of us from UIndy and a large group from Texas State University.  We have already talked extensively about the challenges we face: the high temperatures, the difficulty digging in the ground here, and the depth of the burials (among other things). But, unlike what we faced in Sacred Heart Burial Park, each area of the cemetery where unidentified migrants are buried brings its own unique challenges.


The area that needs to be searched here is very large. While that might not be an issue in the sandy soil of Brooks County, here our normal search strategies are difficult or impossible. Probing the ground has proven impossible and the act of digging test pits or trenches is difficult and time consuming. Yet, they are still making progress and doing an incredible job facing the challenges of this particular site.


The area here is located on low ground. We had had several big overnight storms throughout the week that has left this area completely underwater.  Yet, this group came up with strategies to remove the water from the pit and continue to work without much delay.


This group is digging their excavation area completely by hand. This burial is expected to be 5-6 feet below ground surface and is located in a place that the backhoe cannot reach.   So they are using shovels to excavate the entire pit by hand. In this environment that is quite a task!


In this area of the cemetery the burials are deep! This has required a lot of digging to locate and remove each burial. Yet, this team has powered through it each day.

Every volunteer is facing the same collective challenges in addition to the unique challenges of their team’s particular excavation spot. It takes a lot of dedication, determination and strength to continue to make progress each day and we wanted to make sure all these hard workers are recognized!