This paper explores the impact of the US Border Patrol’s strategy of “Prevention Through Deterrence” along unauthorized migration routes in the Sonoran Desert. Using Geographic Information System (GIS) modeling of the Sonoran Desert, Arizona, and an analysis of comprehensive activity logs of the use of clean drinking water along migration routes between 2012 to 2015, it finds that migration routes shifted to increasingly rugged and more dangerous terrain. Coupled with everyday interference with clean drinking water sites provided by humanitarian organizations, this deterrence policy maximizes the physiological harm experienced by unauthorized migrants. It also explains the persistence of mortality of unauthorized migrants, and the increase in the rate of mortality over time. The paper concludes with several policy recommendations for US Customs and Border Protection, including: 1) making interference by border officials and vandalism of humanitarian aid a fireable offense; 2) the formation of a border-wide agency tasked with search-and-rescue and emergency medical response; and 3) ending Prevention Through Deterrence as a nationwide strategy.
This paper challenges the assumption within international development programming that regular and orderly migration is also safer for migrants. Based on data collected from Cambodian, Burmese, Laotian, and Vietnamese labor migrants recently returned from Thailand, this paper illustrates the limits of regular migration to provide meaningfully “safer” experiences. It observes that migrant workers who move through legal channels do not systematically experience better outcomes. While regular migrants report better pay and working conditions than irregular migrants, they also systematically report working conditions that do not meet legal standards, and routinely experience contract substitution. Regular migrants also have a higher likelihood of experiencing exploitation, contract breaches, harassment, abuse, and involuntary return. These findings challenge mainstream development discourses seeking to promote safer migration experiences through expanding migration infrastructure. The paper recommends: 1) re-examining the conflation of “safe” with “regular and orderly” migration and advocating for practices that increase migrant safety, 2) focusing on broadening rights offered to migrant workers, and 3) strengthening and expanding oversight of labor standards and migrant regulations.