Getting “Super Loco” on the Train Tracks

Mobility and the Moral Economy of Human Smuggling from Central America to the United States

Seminar with Dr. Jason De León, University of Michigan

Venue: Center for Sundhed og Samfund (CSS), Øster Farimagsgade 5A, room 5.0.22
Time: November 24, 2016 13-14.30
Host: Centre for Medical Science and Technology Studies (MEST) and The Graduate Programme Medicine, Culture and Society, University of Copenhagen.

For decades, undocumented Mexican migrants have made up the bulk of people apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol along America’s southern geopolitical boundary. There has been a dramatic increase in recent years in the number of people from Central America attempting to enter the U.S. without authorization. In response to this demographic shift, the Mexican government (with logistical and economic support from the United States) has increased its own immigration enforcement and deportation efforts. More than ever before, Central American migrants must rely on human smugglers (“coyotes”) to get them across Mexico and into the United States. While much scholarship exists on the plight of the migrant, little research has focused on the precarious and violent lives of smugglers. Drawing on recent ethnographic and photographic work with both Central American smugglers and the law enforcement agencies charged with stopping them, I examine the day-to-day experiences of this poorly understood population. Through the lens of the coyote, I posit that much can be gleaned about the political and economic forces that shape the moral economy of human smuggling, the ways in which value is attached to the lives of different types of migrants, and how accountability for migration-related violence is constructed in political discourse.

Jason De León is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan and the Director of the Undocumented Migration Project (UMP), a long term anthropological analysis of clandestine migration between Latin America and the United States that draws on an innovative combination of archaeology, ethnography, and forensic science to understand this violent social process. This academic work has been featured in numerous public media outlets including National Geographic, New York Times, the Huffington Post, and the BBC. De León is a 2013 National Geographic Emerging Explorer and author of the book “The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail” (University of California Press).