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While scour­ing the Sono­ran Desert for objects left behind by migrants cross­ing into the Unit­ed States, anthro­pol­o­gist Jason De León hap­pened upon some­thing he did­n’t expect to get left behind: a human arm, stripped of flesh.

This macabre dis­cov­ery sent him reel­ing, need­ing to know what exact­ly hap­pened to the body, and how many migrants die that way in the wilder­ness. In research­ing bor­der-cross­er deaths in the Ari­zona desert, he noticed some­thing sur­pris­ing. Some­time in the late-1990s, the num­ber of migrant deaths shot up dra­mat­i­cal­ly and have stayed high since. Jason traced this increase to a Bor­der Patrol pol­i­cy still in effect, called Pre­ven­tion Through Deterrence.”

First aired in 2018 and over three episodes, Radi­o­lab inves­ti­gates this pol­i­cy, its sur­pris­ing ori­gins, and the peo­ple whose lives were changed for­ev­er because of it.

Part 3: What Remains 

The third episode in our Bor­der Tril­o­gy fol­lows anthro­pol­o­gist Jason De León after he makes a gris­ly dis­cov­ery in Ari­va­ca, Ari­zona. In the mid­dle of car­ry­ing out his pig exper­i­ments with his stu­dents, Jason finds the body of a 30-year-old female migrant. With the help of the med­ical exam­in­er and some local human­i­tar­i­an groups, Jason dis­cov­ers her iden­ti­ty. Her name was Maricela. Jason then con­nects with her fam­i­ly, includ­ing her broth­er-in-law, who sur­vived his own har­row­ing jour­ney through Cen­tral Amer­i­ca and the Ari­zona desert.

With the human cost of Pre­ven­tion Through Deter­rence weigh­ing on our minds, we try to parse what dri­ves migrants like Maricela to cross through such dead­ly ter­rain, and what, if any­thing, could deter them.