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Webiar Series 1 - Talk 1

Winter Webinar Series:
Unauthorized DNA: Border Disappearances and Forensic Illegality on the US-Mexico Border

Date: 21 April 2023 (Friday)

Time: 830-930 AM MST  (530-630 PM CEST, 1130 PM-1230 AM HKT)
Unauthorized DNA: Border Disappearances and Forensic Illegality on the US-Mexico Border
Speaker: Robin Reineke
(Assistant Professor, School of Anthropology, University of Arizona)

Discussant: Roberto Castillo 

(Assistant Professor, Department of Cultural Studies, Lingnan University)



The US-Mexico borderlands have been the site of mass disappearance since at least the late 1990s. Along with border deaths, the phenomenon of border disappearance has generally been analyzed in terms of US border policy and interpreted as a result of Border Patrol tactical use of the geography of southwestern deserts. However, these disappearances are not only a result of border policy but also of state practices of identification that operate well outside the border landscape. Broadly, practices used by governments to track and monitor individuals and how these practices shape and are in turn shaped by individual identity have been a long-term concern within anthropology. Anthropologists of immigration in particular have taken up the question of how legal categories structure lived experiences around rights and personhood, often leading to a kind of social and legal invisibility. In this article, I draw on this body of theory and research to better understand border disappearances and their implications. Through a close examination of one technology of human identification—DNA—I trace how forensic bureaucracies interpret, construct, and enforce illegality and its attendant characteristic, invisibility. I argue that border disappearances are a result not only of border enforcement policies but also of a surveillance and categorization system that places an entire class of people outside the protection of the law. The resulting state of rightlessness reinforces the invisibility of deaths at the border and other sites forms of violence experienced by the undocumented.

About the speaker:

Robin Reineke is a sociocultural anthropologist with specializations in transnational migration, science and technology studies, forensic anthropology, and the anthropology of violence, death, and the dead body. Her research and fieldwork are focused on the US-Mexico border region, especially the Sonoran Desert. From 2006 – 2020, she worked closely with the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner where she carried out both ethnographic fieldwork and the forensic anthropology of human identification. In 2013 Reineke co-founded the Colibrí Center for Human Rights, which she directed until 2019. Dr. Reineke is Assistant Research Social Scientist at the Southwest Center and Assistant Professor in the School of Anthropology, both at the University of Arizona.

Unauthorized DNA Border Disappearances and Forensic Illegality on the US-Mexico Border_TE
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