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Refugees: Justice and Ethics Library Display 2021

Tribute drawing


Melina Morales


Tribute drawing dedicated to the lives lost across the US- Mexico border in the Sonoran Desert.


Prevention through deterrence at the US border was the inspiration for this piece. Rather than illustrating the events that take place in this “State of Exception” I decided to create a tribute piece in remembrance of the thousands of lives lost at the hands of the US immigration every year. Hence the writing “Dedicado a las Almas Perdidas,” which translates to “Dedicated to the Lost Souls.” In Jason De Leon’s novel “The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail,” he describes how immigrants who choose to cross the border are reduced to “bare life.” The “Prevention through Deterrence” policies implemented in 1994 are the reason for the thousands of unidentified deaths. I chose a Phoenix to represent the lives lost because the bird signifies strength, immortality and life after death. Similar to the physical erasure and dehumanization at the border the mythical bird doesn’t exist yet it symbolizes the resilience these immigrants possess on their journeys.

Moving on to the background of the drawing, I incorporated the map of the Sonoran Desert which extends across the US- Mexico border. This area is an example of a “State of Exception” that Giorgio Agamben details in “Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life.” With the 1994 immigration policies put in place, it stripped away their rights, but also forced them to make the journey across the most treacherous areas of the Sonoran Desert. As policy makers choose to ignore that migrant fatalities are a consequence of this policy it doesn’t change the fact that they are utilizing the desert to handle their immigration concerns. At the end of the day these unidentified bodies were once real people with real lives who sought out to improve the lives of their families. This drawing is dedicated to those lost souls, descansa en paz.


Agamben, Giorgio. “Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life.” Giorgio Agamben: Homo Sacer, 2007.

De León, Jason, and Michael Wells. “You Can’t Leave Them Behind.” The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail, 1st ed., University of California Press, 2015, pp. 220–37.

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