Jason De León

Jason De Leon

Jason De León

Core Faculty


Office: Haines Hall 364

Phone: (310) 825-5447

Curriculum Vitae


I am anthropologist interested in the violent social process of undocumented migration from Latin America to the United States. I direct the Undocumented Migration Project (UMP), a long-term study of clandestine border crossing that uses a combination of ethnographic, archaeological, visual, and forensic approaches to understand this phenomenon in a variety of geographic contexts including the Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona and the Mexico/Guatemala border. The UMP, through our Colibri Initiative, also works directly with families of missing migrants to help identify and repatriate the remains of people who have died while migrating. My first book, The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail (UC Pres 2015) focused on the impacts of the U.S. border enforcement policy known as “Prevention Through Deterrence” that has led to the deaths of thousands of people in the Arizona desert. My second book, “Soldiers and Kings” (forthcoming 2023 from Viking Press), examines the everyday lives of Honduran smugglers moving migrants across Mexico. I am currently working on a book about the praxis of photoethnography and also conducting ethnographic and forensic fieldwork in Mexico and Honduras focused on the subject of missing migrants. I hold a split faculty position in the Department of Chicana/o Studies and the Department of Anthropology. I am also affiliated with the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, which is where my research lab is located.



  • PhD, Anthropology, Penn State University (2008)
  • MA,  Anthropology, Penn State University (2004)
  • BA, Anthropology, UCLA (2001)

Selected Publications

  • In Press J. De León
    “Como Me Duele”: Central American Bodies and the Moral Economy of Undocumented Migration. Paper prepared for The Border and Its Bodies: The Corporeality of Risk in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, edited by T. Sheridan and R. McGuire. University of Arizona Press.
  • 2019 J. De León and C. Gokee
    Lasting Value? Engaging with the Material Traces of America’s Undocumented Migration “Problem,” In Cultural Heritage, Ethics and Contemporary Migrations, eds. C. Holtorf, A. Pantazatos and G. Scarre, pp. 70-86, Routledge Press.
  • 2018 J. De León
    The Photoethnographic Eye: Visualizing the Honduran Migrant Experience in Mexico. In Out of Bounds: Photography and Migration, edited by T. Sheehan, Routledge Press.
  • 2017 J. De León
    The New Colossus: Contextualizing and Historicizing Fragments of 21st Century Undocumented Migration. In Many Voices, One Nation: A Material History of the Peopling of America, eds. M. Salazar-Porzio and J. Fragaszy Troyano, pp. 257-267, Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press, Washington D.C.
  • 2015 J. De León
    The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Sonoran Desert Migrant Trail. University of California Press, Berkeley.
  • 2014 J. Beck, I. Ostericher, G. Sollish, and J. De León
    Scavenging Behavior in the Sonora Desert and Implications for Documenting Border Crosser Fatalities. Journal of Forensic Sciences 60:S11-S20.
  • 2012 J. De León
    “Better To Be Hot Than Caught”: Excavating the Conflicting Roles of Migrant
    Material Culture. American Anthropologist 114(3):477-495.
  • 2009 J. De León, K. Hirth and D. Carballo
    Exploring Formative Period Obsidian Blade Trade: Three Distribution Models. Ancient Mesoamerica 20:113-128.