Jason De León and the Undocumented Migration Project

Professor and Director of the Undocumented Migration Project (UMP)

Grantee Cohort Spring 2020

Location Los Angeles, CA

Jason De León, professor of anthropology and Chicana/o studies at UCLA, directs the Undocumented Migration Project (UMP), a nonprofit collective that works to humanize the migrant experience, illuminate the loss of life at the U.S./Mexico border, and highlight the growing migrant detention-industrial complex in the U.S. and Mexico. UMP asserts that objects migrants leave behind are of great historical significance, translating archeological and anthropological data into public education and art initiatives.

Jason is a MacArthur fellow whose work specializes in border crossings and incarceration. He wrote “The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail” and co-produced the documentary film “Border South.

Through the Art for Justice grant, UMP developed a participatory art exhibition that bears witness to the humanitarian crisis at the border. It is set to occur in nearly 150 cities globally. The project, entitled “Hostile Terrain 94”, will memorialize the thousands who have died in attempts to cross the border as a result of failed immigration policy, while raising awareness during a presidential election year about the realities of the U.S./Mexico border. It included a 20-foot map of the Arizona/Mexico border made entirely of handwritten toe tags, representing the over 3,500 lives lost trying to cross this segment of the border, an augmented reality experience, and a screening of the documentary film “Border South.” “Hostile Terrain 94” converts research and policy into an emotional experience that people can touch, interact with and learn from.

The humanitarian crisis along the U.S.–Mexico border has claimed thousands of lives and incarcerated hundreds of thousands more since the 1990s. With their latest grant, in an effort to memorialize and bare witness to this crisis, the Undocumented Migration Project, and La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, presented Hostile Terrain 94 (HT94) – a series of participatory art exhibitions occurring over 130 cities globally. This project included monthly webinars, an online learning portal and “A Moment of Global Remembrance,” an awareness campaign where volunteers will read the names of more than 3,200 individuals who have died attempting to cross the border into Arizona.