A few years ago, while retracing the believed last steps of a woman who perished in the Imperial Valley desert, I accompanied a few of Mexico's Grupo Beta border agents along a well-known human smuggling trail. One of the most striking things about it - aside from how difficult it is to walk in coarse sand - was the debris strewn along the way. Not only the expected empty water bottles, but entire backpacks discarded by exhausted people trying to lighten their load.
There were cowboy boots, brand-new jeans with the tags attached, lingerie, all of it half-buried in the sand. I wondered about who had left it there, and whether they were stil alive. As it turns out, this debris is archaeological valuable. Miller-McCune magazine has an interesting profile of Jason De LeÃ³n, a University of Michigan anthropologist and archeologist who has been studying these left-behind items as part of his Undocumented Migrant Project, using them to tell the story of illegal immigration as human traffic moves across the border. From the piece: