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.

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.”


2018                J.I. Staley Book Prize, School for Advanced Research.

2017                Delmos Jones and Jagna Sharf Memorial Prize for the Critical Study of North America. Society for the Anthropology of North America.

 2016                Margaret Mead Award. American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology.

2016                Book Prize. The Society for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology, American Anthropological Association.


2018                Graphic Book Review “Desolation on the Border”, The New York Times, January 12th, 2018. 

2017                Book Review. City & Society 29 (2).


2016                Book Review. Border Criminologies Blog, University of Oxford. October, 2016.

2016                “Border Enforcement, Biophysical Violence, and the Ambiguities of Humanitarian Intervention in the Borderlands of the Global North.” Migration Studies, August 2016.

2016                “On Those Who Live and Die Along the Border.” High Country News, July 25th, 2016.

2016                “Review of Jason De León, The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail.NACLA Report on the Americas 48:1, 101-102.

2016                “Fear and Trauma in Immigration Policy.” The Christian Century. March 3rd, 2016.

2016                Book Review. Anthropology Review Database. February 20th, 2016.

2016                “Heat and Death.” The Times Literary Supplement. January 22nd, 2016.

2015                “An Anthropologist Unravels the Mysteries of Mexican Migration.” National Geographic’s Sunday Book Talk. December 6th, 2015.

2015                “Forensic Photography and the Roads of the Dead.” Cultural Environments Blog. December 7th, 2015.



“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

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