The Land of Open Graves



“The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail” is the culmination of a six years of ethnographic, archaeological, and forensic research on the social process of undocumented migration between Latin America and the United States that Jason De León conducted between 2009 and 2015. The book features photographs by Michael Wells. The book will be released on October 23rd, 2015 and is currently available for pre-order from 

From the press release: “In his gripping and provocative debut, anthropologist Jason De León sheds light on one of the most pressing political issues of our time—the human consequences of US immigration policy.  The Land of Open Graves reveals the suffering and death that take place daily in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona as thousands of undocumented migrants attempt to cross from Mexico into the United States.

Drawing on the four major fields of anthropology, De León uses an innovative combination of ethnography, archaeology, linguistics, and forensic science to produce a scathing critique of “Prevention through Deterrence,” the federal border enforcement policy that encourages migrants to cross in areas characterized by extreme environmental conditions and high risk of death. For two decades, this policy has failed to deter border crossers while successfully turning the rugged terrain of southern Arizona into a killing field.

A masterful storyteller, De León chronicles the harrowing journeys of people who have made dozens of attempts to cross the border and uncovers the stories of the objects and bodies left behind in the desert.

The Land of Open Graves will spark debate and controversy.”

Early reviews of the book: 

“Jason De León confronts us with a vivid indictment of the killing fields on the US-Mexican border and reveals the brutality of global inequality in all its goriness and intimate suffering. A self-described refugee from archaeology, De León is, in fact, revitalizing the field by blowing apart the traditional sub-disciplinary boundaries of anthropology. With no holds barred, he offers new paths for theory, methods, and public anthropology.” —Philippe Bourgois, author of In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio and of Righteous Dopefiend

“Jason De León has written a remarkable book. I know of no other ethnography of life and death on the borderlands that is more moving, theoretically ambitious, or powerful than this eagerly awaited work.” —María Elena García, Director of the Comparative History of Ideas program at the University of Washington, author of Making Indigenous Citizens

“This book sears itself into your memory. You literally can’t put it down.” —Stanley Brandes, Robert H. Lowie Professor of Anthropology, UC Berkeley

“An impressive piece of scholarship, The Land of Open Graves is a brilliant and important book that humanizes the realities of life and death on the migrant trail in southern Arizona.”—Randall H. McGuire, author of Archaeology as Political Action