Sensors, Cameras, and the New ‘Normal’ in Clandestine Migration: How Undocumented Migrants Experience Surveillance at the U.S.-Mexico Border

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Bryce Clayton Newell Ricardo Gomez Verónica E. Guajardo


This paper presents findings from an exploratory qualitative study of the experiences and perceptions of undocumented (irregular) migrants to the United States with various forms of surveillance in the borderlands between the U.S. and Mexico. Based on fieldwork conducted primarily in a migrant shelter in Nogales, Mexico, we find that migrants generally have a fairly sophisticated understanding about U.S. Border Patrol surveillance and technology use and that they consciously engage in forms of resistance or avoidance. Heightened levels of border surveillance may be deterring a minority of migrants from attempting immediate future crossings, but most interviewees were undeterred in their desire to enter the U.S., preferring to find ways to avoid government surveillance. Furthermore, migrants exhibit a general lack of trust in the “promise” of technology to improve their circumstances and increase their safety during clandestine border-crossing—often due to fears that technology use makes them vulnerable to state surveillance, tracking, and arrest.

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Author Biographies

Bryce Clayton Newell, Tilburg University

Post Doctoral Researcher, Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology, and Society (TILT), Tilburg University

Ricardo Gomez, University of Washington

Associate Professor, The Information School

Verónica E. Guajardo, University of Washington

Ph.D. Student, The Information School