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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
Photo on 7-15-21 at 7.20 PM.jpg

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


FALL 2022

Knowing Borders. Ecologies, Materialities, Aesthetics

Borders are complex configurations in which political regimes, ecosystems, flows of people and goods, technologies and affects are intertwined. These dense and shifting interweavings are underpinned by singular materialities that, in themselves, can constitute both the routes along which bodies and things travel and the obstacles that impede their movement. A desert or a fence, a river or surveillance cameras. Given this plurality of meanings and forms, this political and historical interweaving of determinations and openings, as well as the emergence of new concepts and approaches, we believe it is necessary to question the ways of knowing and investigating borders. Border can be a common denominator for different ways of knowing: a border has not only been constituted by the physical forms that delimit political sovereignties (walls, fences), but also by the sequence of natural and urban spaces, buildings, roads, technologies that expand around it. What does it imply to investigate a desert or to explore the movement of bodies in certain spaces or infrastructures, how do we see a border in the distance or one nearby? In this seminar, we will explore some ways of knowing and investigating the borders of North and Central America from their multiple configurations: the deserts between Mexico and the United States or the rivers of Guatemala and Mexico; the technologically sophisticated surveillance systems that control the US border and the military checkpoints that are posted in the vicinity of Mexico's southern border; as well as the vast ecosystems that converge along the border corridor and shape its economic, ecological and human flows.

Investigar las fronteras. Ecologías, materialidades, estéticas

Las fronteras son configuraciones complejas en las que se entrelazan regímenes políticos, ecosistemas, flujos de personas y bienes, tecnologías y afectos. Estos entrelazamientos densos y cambiantes están sostenidos por materialidades singulares que, en sí mismas, pueden constituir tanto las rutas por donde transitan los cuerpos y las cosas como los obstáculos que impiden su desplazamiento. Un desierto o una valla, un río o cámaras de vigilancia. Dada esta pluralidad de sentidos y formas, este entrecruzamiento político e histórico de determinaciones y aperturas, así como la emergencia de nuevos conceptos y aproximaciones, creemos necesario interrogar los modos de conocer e investigar las fronteras. Frontera puede ser un denominador común para distintas formas de conocer: una frontera no ha sido constituida sólo por las formas físicas que delimitan soberanías políticas (muros, rejas), sino también por la secuencia de espacios naturales y urbanos, edificios, caminos, tecnologías que se expanden a su alrededor. ¿Qué implica investigar un desierto o explorar el movimiento de los cuerpos en ciertos espacios o infraestructuras?, ¿cómo vemos una frontera a lo lejos o una cercana? En este seminario exploraremos algunos modos de conocer e investigar las fronteras de América del Norte y Centroamérica desde sus configuraciones múltiples: los desiertos entre México y los Estados Unidos y los ríos de Guatemala y México; los sistemas de vigilancia tecnológicamente sofisticados que controlan la frontera estadunidense y los retenes militares que se apostan en las cercanías de la frontera sur de México; así como los vastos ecosistemas que confluyen a lo largo del corredor fronterizo y configuran sus flujos económicos, ecológicos y humanos.

Border Lab: Text

FALL 2021

Borderland Technologies: Data, Practices, and Stories 

Technologies, their use, development, and governance on the Border materialize the political lines between states, identities and peoples. Activists, migrants, and researchers are cultivating alternative technological worlds on the border and are at the center of resisting existing systems. In this speaker series we will hear from those researching, creating, hacking, and resisting humanitarian technologies in the Mexican Borderlands, including isotope analysis, DNA technologies, GPS and ICT technologies, and Biometrics. Join us as technologists, scientists, designers, activists and researchers describe how specific technologies are deployed in the borders of Central and North America. Let's begin a collective conversation about the practices and stories that border technologies are generating, in the time of "Smart Borders" and humanitarian technological innovation to characterize, in first-person, the trajectories of these borderland experiments. 

Tecnologías fronterizas: Datos, prácticas e historias 

Las tecnologías, su uso, desarrollo y gobernanza en la frontera materializan las líneas políticas entre estados, identidades y pueblos. Activistas, migrantes e investigadores están cultivando mundos tecnológicos alternativos en la frontera y están en el centro de la resistencia a los sistemas existentes. En esta serie de charlas escucharemos a aquellos que investigan, crean, hackean y resisten las tecnologías humanitarias en la frontera mexicana, incluyendo el análisis de isótopos, las tecnologías de ADN, el GPS y las tecnologías TIC, y la biometría. Acompáñanos mientras tecnólogos, científicos, diseñadores, activistas e investigadores describen cómo se despliegan tecnologías específicas en las fronteras de América Central y del Norte. Iniciemos una conversación colectiva sobre las prácticas e historias que las tecnologías fronterizas están generando, en la época de las "Fronteras Inteligentes" y de la innovación tecnológica humanitaria para caracterizar, en primera persona, las trayectorias de estos experimentos fronterizos.

Border Lab: Text
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