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Dissertation Proposal Defense for Caitlin Vogelsberg

March 20, 2017 @ 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Dissertation Proposal Title:     Increasing identifications of deceased border crossers: Investigating spatial and skeletal attributes of migrant deaths

Date:               Monday, March 20, 2017

Time:              1:00-3:00 p.m.

Location:        Room A438 East Fee Hall

Student:          Caitlin Vogelsberg


Undocumented immigration into the United States via the Mexican border has continued

to be a topic of national debate for well over two decades; in part due to the high numbers of

international migrants dying as they attempt to clandestinely enter the country. Since 2001,

almost 2,500 undocumented border crossers (UBCs) have perished in the Sonoran Desert located

within the jurisdiction of the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner (PCOME) in Tucson,

AZ. The PCOME covers 11 of the 15 Arizona counties, including the four which border Mexico

(PCOME 2016). The PCOME averages over 170 UBC deaths a year and currently has an

identification rate of approximately 64% (PCOME 2016). The purpose of this research is to

examine the biological and geospatial properties of the human remains recovered in their

jurisdiction and investigate how certain individuals are represented over this wide geographic


There are two goals of this proposed research project. One is to create a predictive model

for future remains found in southern Arizona by combining open geographic information

systems (OGIS) data of the recovery location of deceased UBCs and well-established skeletal

features (both metric and macromorphoscopic) of the cranium associated with geographic or

ancestral origins of an individual. This will allow for more directed searches to identify future

unknown individuals. That is, if the individual was found in a region where a significant number

of Guatemalans were found and their cranial features are most similar to Guatemalans, then

missing persons reports of Guatemalan migrants will be searched first.

The second goal is build upon the initiatives started by fellow forensic anthropology

researchers regarding migrant issues through the continued collection of skeletal data from

migrant populations. This work is necessary not only to understand global human variation but to

increase relevant skeletal reference information as there are approximately 55.25 million

Hispanic individuals living in the United States, comprising the second largest group behind

Whites (Stepler and Brown 2016). Therefore, it is just as likely a forensic anthropologist may

analyze an individual of Hispanic origin, the generalized population term which most UBCs in

southern Arizona fall under, as any other population, especially in the areas such as the Greater


Through these goals, this research will provide forensic workers supplemental

information to aid in the investigation of undocumented border crossers recovered from the

southern Arizona desert and potentially increase identifications. Furthermore, any information

that helps the successful identification of those found along the U.S.-Mexico border is valuable

for the return of those remains to their families.


Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner (PCOME). 2016. Annual Report. Tucson, Arizona.

Stepler R, Brown A. 2016. Statistical portrait of Hispanics in the United States. Pew Research

Center Hispanic Trends, 19 April; http://www.pewhispanic.org/2016/04/19/statistical-


March 20, 2017
1:00 pm - 3:00 pm


A438 East Fee Hall