Human Rights Watch | Defending Human Rights Worldwide

Photographs of people who disappeared while attempting to migrate to the United States are laid out across the street from the US Capitol in Washington, DC, October 19, 2021.

“Nothing but Bones”

People migrating to the US have increasingly died or disappeared while traversing the treacherous US-Mexico land border ever since the US government officially launched Prevention Through Deterrence at its southern border 30 years ago. These policies are explicitly aimed at forcing irregular migrants onto "hostile terrain," making crossing the US southern border so dangerous that it discourages people from even trying. The policies intentionally funnel migrants into the harsh, mountainous Sonoran Desert, where temperatures fluctuate between searing heat and icy cold, or through the fast-moving currents of the Rio Grande, where their lives could be at risk. Deterrence also includes punitive immigration policies and dangerous infrastructure, such as border walls, razor wire, armed soldiers, river buoys equipped with saw blades, and surveillance technology. Mexican criminal groups and corrupt state officials systematically target migrants for violence, while missing person reports are rarely resolved and the human remains of migrants – even in known mass graves – remain unidentified.