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July 12, 2013

Hidden Treasure: Learning About Immigration Through Conservation

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Photo Credit: Dan Millis

Imagine you are hiking through a desert in Arizona and stumble over a child’s toy on the sandy desert ground. Who did the toy belong to? What did it mean to that child?

The Sierra Club is now partnering with University of Michigan’s Undocumented Migration Project (UMP) to catalog information about items found while cleaning up the desert, with hopes of learning more about the the immigration movement between the United States and Mexico.

The Sierra Club and UMP are working together to clean up items like empty water bottles, energy drinks, backpacks, and hygienic items left in the Arizona Desert. But instead of immediately throwing these items away, they are catalogued so we can learn information about the individuals who choose to cross the border into the United States. After the items are catalogued, they are either recycled or discarded.

About a dozen students from colleges across the country are spending the summer at the UMP field school in Arivaca as contemporary archaeologists. Each day, they hike six to 10 miles to desert sites and gather data for individual research projects focusing on topics such as corporate money spent on the immigration system. 

The Sierra Club was already actively participating in desert cleanups throughout the year, but now they’re going one step further by cataloging the items they find to shed light on the immigration system, effectively standing up for those who cross our borders in search of a better life.

Dan Millis of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Protection program is excited about the project. “This is going to change the way we do cleanups,” said Millis. “Partnering with UMP gives us a way to clean up the desert without throwing away the evidence of a migration of historic proportions.  The items we find are personal belongings, sacred objects, and artifacts, and deserve to be recorded as such.”

Check out these photos of Sierra Club and UMP students and staff putting a new spin on desert cleanups.

--Lauren Lantry, Sierra Club Media Team

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