Constructing a desert labyrinth: The psychological and emotional geographies of deterrence strategy on the U.S. / Mexico border

Samuel N. Chambers, Geoffrey Alan Boyce, W. Jake Jacobs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Confinement, hindrance, and time bring anxiety, fear, and stress, often accompanied by confusion and desperation. In the case of undocumented immigrants in the Sonoran Desert, such conditions are manipulated by way of surveillance and policing. These conditions, in combination with physical exertion, augment a physiological stress response that coalesces with existing traumas and fear. We undertake a critical mapping of relations among enforcement infrastructure, migration routes, and measurable features of the physical landscape to demonstrate that a corridor in the region functions as a labyrinth, an outcome of a combination of threats and stressors determined by the spaces migrants find themselves in after crossing the U.S./Mexico border. We argue a biopolitical understanding of current border policies indicates it reduces migrants to bare life rather than using threat, stressors, or trauma as instruments for manipulating behavior. We discuss how this labyrinth works in combination with other mechanisms, including criminalization, detention, abuse, separation, and deportation, to deliver consequences that may deter migration. Despite these efforts, migration routes remain plastic, indicating the continued potential to resist and evade the surveillance technologies and enforcement deployed in the borderlands. We assert that an inevitable result of the desert labyrinth is human mortality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100764
JournalEmotion, Space and Society
StatePublished - Feb 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Carceral power
  • Immigration
  • Stressor
  • Temporality
  • Threat
  • Topography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Constructing a desert labyrinth: The psychological and emotional geographies of deterrence strategy on the U.S. / Mexico border'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this