Photo: Michael Wells

Starting with the discovery of a de-fleshed human arm, "Border Trilogy" is a three-part audio story that investigates why there was a huge uptick in migrant deaths across the border in the '90s.

About a year and a half ago, reporter Latif Nasser took a bus from New York City to Washington, D.C., and started a conversation with the stranger sitting next to him. Lynn, an anthropologist, mentioned Jason De León’s book “The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail.” Nasser had never heard about it but after reading it, he emailed De León — and the rest, as they say, is history. A very sordid history, that is, one of bones found strewn across the border.

“Border Trilogy,” a three-part Radiolab series that begins with De León’s macabre discoveryof a withered human arm in the Sonoran desert, examines border-crosser deaths and a Border Patrol policy called “Prevention Through Deterrence.”

“The idea was to concentrate the majority of the Border Patrol’s resources to block off the most heavily trafficked areas of illegal immigration — like El Paso, San Diego, south of Tucson — and leave the only routes open to cross in pretty remote and natural hostile terrain,” explained Nasser, in an interview with “Like the Sonoran desert.”

Coming across a human arm while doing field work sounds terrifying. “The first time I encountered a fragmented skeleton was traumatizing on a personal level,” said De León to “[It was] an event that inspired me to focus my efforts on using forensic science to better understand what happens to migrant bodies in the desert.”

Border Trilogy starts with the origins of the 1994 “Prevention Through Deterrence” policy that forced migrants to travail inhospitable terrain to cross the border. Nasser points to a few things “in flux” during the ’90s, such as economic stressors like NAFTA and the crash of the Mexican Peso. “Politically, illegal immigration was a major issue, particularly in California under then-Governor Pete Wilson…then-President Bill Clinton felt he needed to tackle the issue in order to win California for his re-election.” Nasser points to the chaos in El Paso, where the team did most of their research. “The Border Patrol had their own problems as well — people perceived them as being ineffective, or even worse, an invading army into local neighborhoods. Out of this chaos emerged this new strategy.”

Read the full article here.