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Posted on Sun, Feb 5, 2012 : 3:02 p.m.

University of Michigan professor uses lost objects to tell stories of illegal border crossings

By Sven Gustafson

A University of Michigan professor is amassing an anthropological and archeological treasure chest of remnants found in the American Southwest in an effort to tell little-known stories about illegal immigration and those who cross the U.S.-Mexico border, the Detroit Free Press writes.

Since beginning his Undocumented Migration Project in 2008, professor Jason De Leon and his students have collected roughly 10,000 worn shoes, socks, backpacks, parts of birth certificates, water bottles and other belongings dropped by migrant workers while crossing the desert.

He also combines the artifacts with interviews with people who have made the crossing to illustrate the realities faced by people who sneak into the United States.

He’s found, for instance, that white water bottles cause problems for people trying to hide from Border Patrol agents because the white reflects searchlights. But darker-colored jugs heat up too much in the desert sun and are dead giveaways for infrared surveillance technology.

De Leon has family members who were migrant workers, he studied archeology in school and wrote his dissertation about ancient stone tools. He says his goal is to show the realities of what it’s like to cross the border and illustrate how the process is “politically gray.”

Read the Freep story.


Bob Sly

Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 4:25 p.m.

Is it an assumption or a fact that the items were dropped by "migrant workers". Isn't it possible that some crossing the border illegally had motivation other than work?

Bernhard Muller

Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 2:26 p.m.

How is the process of crossing the border "politically gray"? It is simply illegal. This does not mean study of such law breakers is inappropriate; only that the border crossing process is not "politically gray".


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 5:33 a.m.

So the first desire they have when they cross the border illegally it to litter? Strike two.


Sun, Feb 5, 2012 : 10:37 p.m.

The naysayers to the contrary, this is very legitimate research on one of the major population transfers in modern history, that is also very fraught with political implications. Jason Deleon is in the fortunate position to be an archeologist , with a not only trove of artifacts that themselves tell a compelling story, but who can crosscheck his interpretations with real people..... a far better chance to get a full picture than most archeologists, whose subjects are long dead. He's also well able to communicate his subject matter and has been , i believe, tapped by the DISCOVERY CHANNEL to do a series..


Sun, Feb 5, 2012 : 10:32 p.m.

Jason De León is a wonderful teacher, and has been written up on Huffington Post and many newspapers and magazines across the country. He tells tragic stories using found objects from the trail of detritus left behind in the desert. He deserves our admiration not criticism.


Sun, Feb 5, 2012 : 10:24 p.m.

Just another way to glorify illegal immigration. People that come here LEGALLY also have interesting stories to tell. Let's hear about those.


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 3:19 a.m.

Because they also have interesting stories to tell, we do not want to hear these?


Sun, Feb 5, 2012 : 9:07 p.m.

Let me guess, he was on sabbatical doing research for a worthy cause, too bad he wasn't on the other side of the border looking for those ghostly or mythical drug lords and how they can be so elusive, I would of felt better if he and his students would of started a recycle center along with a water stations to help those in need during tedious treks across the desert. Good grief, news must really be bad to print this up. Archeological Treasures, and artifacts, he forget to mention the various colors and sizes of huaraches that were left behind by the Chupacabra.


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 3:18 a.m.

Just go back to watch football or its political equivalent: Fox!