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Mapping humanitarian technologies in the Mexican Borderlands


The Border Laboratory focuses on the Mexican borderlands, from Guatemala to the United States. The research will examine the emergence and consolidation of four border technologies that straddle state-based and grassroots responses to migration and migrant death: GPS and ICT technologies, forensic DNA, isotope analysis, and biometrics. Although emerging from disparate intellectual traditions ranging from molecular biology to spatial sciences, the systematic study of these emergent technologies offers a unique lens on (1) borders as spaces of innovation and experimentation on the part of migrants (2) the role of technologies in subject formation, and (3) the rise of hybrid technologies that fuse human rights and security goals.

Border Lab: Welcome
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Lab Convener


Post-Doctoral Fellow


PhD Candidate

Border Lab: Our Team



Multiple state and non-state actors are concurrently working to implement DNA technologies in the borderlands. In the face of the rising international outcry against Mexican practices of identification (and less visibly of the treatment of living migrants) a regional initiative involving the Argentine forensic anthropology team (EAAF), the Mexican state of Chiapas, the governments of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala (the top three countries of origin of Central American migrants), as well as civil organizations in the region, gained traction.


ICT technologies accessed primarily through mobile phones have become essential tools as migrants navigate unfamiliar terrain and are used both for navigation using GPS and for communication.


GPS technologies have been incorporated into a number of border innovations including ankle monitors for “humane” detention of asylum seekers and phone based GPS systems that can help migrant navigate harsh environments at the US-Mexico border or seek help if kidnapped or endangered.


Biometric Kiosks have been an integral
part of the Iniciativa Mérida, a US-
Mexico partnership to secure Mexico’s
southern border and thereby displace
US immigration enforcement to
Mexico. A Mexican official is quoted
saying the new kiosks are part of a
security and technology transfer
program aimed at securing Mexico’s
borders. In addition to their
application on the border these kiosks
have also become routine at major US
airports beginning with Washington
Dulles. Biometric kiosks measure a number of features, including facial recognition, fingerprints, and iris scans.


Strontium analysis is currently being tested for its potential to identify region of origin in Mexican and Central American individuals, thus increasing likelihood of citizenship of the decedent and constituting a repatriation tool for deceased migrants [163], [164]. Strontium is used to pinpoint the geographic region where an individual grew up. Strontium isotope analysis looks at the individual’s tooth enamel to uncover the isotopic profile imbedded in the tooth enamel. 

Border Lab: Projects
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