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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

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We Are More Powerful Together

So frequently, my fellow cohort and I have reflected on the many amazing aspects of participating in the work taking place in South Texas – the ability to utilize our skills in real-world situations, the opportunities to learn and grow as students and as people, and, of course, being involved in such an important humanitarian project that really makes a difference. One aspect that is not discussed as frequently, however, is the great opportunity we have to work with so many other people from Texas State University and other organizations and to observe and learn from their different perspectives and experiences. It’s impossible to mention all of the awesome people that we get to work with, but there are certainly a few who stand out.

Just a couple of hours into our first day at the cemetery in Rio Grande City, a big silver pickup truck pulled up and one of our favorite people climbed out of it – Sister Pam was here! I wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to join us this time, as she lives about 45 minutes away. But sure enough, she made the drive to be there with us almost every day, helping wherever she could, even helping us to dig and move buckets of heavy dirt in the Texas heat. I will never cease to be amazed by the dedication Sister Pam has to this cause and by her never-ending desire to help. Thanks again, Sister Pam!

Sister Pam hard at work
Sister Pam hard at work

Dr. Kate Spradley, a professor at Texas State University, is the primary leader of the humanitarian work being done in  both Brooks County and now Starr County. She helps to keep this work going and moving forward. Having now worked with her for two field seasons in South Texas, I have gotten to know Dr. Spradley as a very kind and caring person who is devoted to this cause. Oftentimes in the field, she can be hard to find, as she is constantly on the move, helping anywhere she is needed and continuing to do much of the behind-the-scenes work that helps keep this project moving forward.

Dr. Spradley taking notes
Dr. Spradley taking notes

Dr. Nick Herman was also here again during this field season. He was only there for a couple of days, but he of course brought along with him his infamous “magic stick” to take measurements. Additionally, Dr. Herman had visited the cemetery prior to our trip to take GPR readings of each of the areas. It will be interesting to see the results after Dr. Herman processes both the GPR and the “magic stick” data.

Dr. Herman and Leann using the magic stick
Dr. Herman and Leann using the magic stick

I first met Dr. Tim Goche just before he completed his doctorate at The Ohio State University. We met at FLAG, the regional forensic anthropology conference in the Midwest and bonded over our mutual love for the show Scrubs. Since then, it has been awesome to learn about his impressive research and watch him move into his new role at Texas State University, quickly becoming so involved in this humanitarian project. I always enjoy working with Tim in the field and hope that we will continue to have opportunities to work together!

Dr. Goche moving dirt with a smile on his face
Dr. Goche moving dirt with a smile on his face

All of us met Dr. JP Fancher for the first time at the beginning of the lab portion of this most recent Texas trip. He was introduced to us as a dentist who assists in the dental analysis of the migrant remains that are analyzed at Texas State. We quickly learned, however, that JP also participates in the field work and is a military medic, making it even more great to have him by our side. Even more so, JP was very kind to all of us and was always eager to offer help or educational moments whenever he could.

JP always cheerful in the field
JP always cheerful in the field

And, of course, my fellow teammates and I would never have had such a wonderful opportunity to be involved with the humanitarian work in South Texas without the hard work and dedication of Dr. Krista Latham. Thank you, Dr. Latham!

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Erica

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Just a small town girl

 

This past year, my classmates at UIndy and I have spent countless hours in our osteology lab going over different methodologies including skeletal analysis. During my first field season in Brooks County in January, the majority of the time was spent conducting field work and seeing first hand why this mission was started. Fast forward a whole semester, here I am back in Texas and everything is different. The first half of this trip was spent at Texas State University’s ORPL conducting skeletal analysis. During those three days, our team conducted a total of 9 skeletal analyses as well as taking an interesting tour of their decomposition research facility, FARF. I enjoyed the skeletal analysis half of this trip for many reasons. This was the first time that our group was able to apply what we had learned in the classroom in an actual case setting.

A view of Freeman Ranch while driving to FARF.
A view of Freeman Ranch while driving to FARF.

After spending 3 days at ORPL, our group and a group from Texas State, traveled to Rio Grande City to start excavations of more unidentified individuals at the local cemetery. Although we are still on the same mission, conducting the same type of excavations of individuals who were never identified; there are several differences between the trip in January and this trip. Temperature was a big one- when we came in January, we also brought the cold Indiana weather with us. This time, we have been faced with both rain and sunny skies with temperatures in the 90s-100s.

The UIndy team was stationed at area 2 and we knew ahead of time that there were reportedly five individuals buried in our area. In Falfurrias, everything was haphazard when it came to finding unknown burials. In Rio Grande City, Texas State was given information from one of the funeral homes as to how many individuals to expect in each area. In area 2, we recovered the five individuals and then made sure there were no other burials in that area before calling it quits. The soil consistency in Falfurrias was sandy and much easier to dig; however, that also meant that we had issues with walls caving in as we dug down deeper. In Rio Grande City, the walls were hard, packed clay with large rocks. If it was not for Silvestre and his excavator, I am not sure how we would have excavated down to the level that we needed and survived the heat.

Silvestre and the backhoe.
Silvestre and the backhoe.

This trip was quit the experience and it feels bittersweet to have it end. Although I am incredibly happy to be able to go home and sleep in my own bed, I am going to miss the comradery and awesome team work that was displayed during this trip. Until next time…

End of the day group photo.
End of the day group photo.

Jessica

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