In the summer of 2013, I traveled to Nogales, Mexico to photograph deported migrants who were attempting to cross the U.S.–Mexico border. I talked with them and listened to their stories about their experiences. Dehydration, heat exhaustion, and bodily injuries were common for many of the migrants that traveled up to seven days across the desert. It was rare for people to be able to trust one another in these environments. Physical and sexual assault, the threat of the mafia, the omnipresence of border patrol, and the perils of the desert are among the many dangers faced by migrants. For some, the desert is an adventurous journey, and for others it is a perilous way to a better life. The experience is different for each person, and the journey often leaves indelible memories and permanent scars.
Since the “Prevention Through Deterrence” policy was passed in the 1990’s, Nogales, AZ— a city situated at the border of Mexico and Arizona—has become a central port of migration. The increased technological surveillance in major ports like Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez have made it impossible to cross in those cities, and have caused migrants to flock to desert areas like Nogales. The purpose of this policy was to deter migrants from crossing the harsh desert terrain, but it has been widely unsuccessful. Since the prevention policy passed, the exact number of bodies that have been lost in the desert in areas like Nogales, AZ is yet unknown.
My work aims to capture an unrepresented reality in the United States by portraying the world of immigration intimately, without romanticizing it. The use of color photography portrays the complications of immigration from the perspective of those who make that journey. In my conversations with migrants, I came to understand the significance of the sun as a factor when crossing the desert. I use harsh sunlight and deep shadow to show the emotional tension of people trapped in their new surroundings, and to illustrate the harsh reality of life and death that characterizes this experience. Through photography, the shadows become a way of communicating the the desire among many migrants to be invisible in order to remain undetected. My hope for this body of work is that it highlights the human experiences shaped by policy, in ways recognizable to an audience beyond those who are directly affected.