US-Mexico Border Migrant Deaths

US-Mexico Border Migrant Deaths

Student Artist: Christian Cayetano
Course: Data Visualization with Lucy HG Solomon
Researcher: Benjamin Nienass, CSUSM Political Science

Project Description
For my research, I was provided with an article shared by Professor Benjamin Nienass. The article is based on U.S.-Mexico Border Migrant Deaths. The source was overwhelming because it provided a lot of rich information. There was so much information and data charts that it was kind of hard to choose a set of data for my project. After speaking with Professor Nienass, he made me realize what I could focus my project on. His explanation on why there were so many migrant deaths at the border was interesting. Some of the explanation consisted of federal programs like Operation Gate Keep set up in San Diego by the president at that time, Bill Clinton. This operation was established in 1994. He went on to explain that since border security was becoming stricter through the California border, migrants moved eastward and then started migrating through Arizona. The state of Arizona noticed the increase in migrants migrating into Arizona, and they set up something similar to Operation Gate Keep. Only they called it Operation Safeguard. Since that happened, migrants then shifted directions and started entering through Texas. Texas also established a program to stop migrants from entering. They called it Operation Blockade.

My process for illustrating this data was based on a specific chart that I chose, depicting the number of deaths between the years of 1994-2013. I chose 1994 because that is the year of the start of Operation Gate Keeps, which sparked the increase of deaths, and 2013 is the latest date with information of deaths. The reason for the absence of recent data is the border patrol’s lack in releasing specific numbers of deaths, and other agencies to not release data on the bodies that are found.

I constructed what I like to call a 3D Border Map. I took a simple piece of flat wood and drew the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas on it. I cut off the bottom section of the states to create a puzzle-like shape. A representation of Mexico and the United States is shown through the contour. Then with a drill type tool, I outlined the lines of each states to distinguish which state is which. I then glued four wood blocks to the back of the states to raise the entire piece. This was done so when I put the two countries together, you can see an almost 3D Border Map.

By coloring the bottom of the states black, I gave the states borders. My choice of surface was to spray paint the map a metallic color. I wanted, if possible, to get a reflection of what’s being placed on top – almost like a mirror. I chose crosses to depict the deaths of the migrants, a common symbol for death. These crosses were sized from small, medium, and large. Each size represents a specific number of deaths.  They were also color-coded into three different colors to represent the three top states; California (Blue), Arizona (Red), and Texas (Green).

My overall goal in this project, other than just representing the migrants’ deaths between 1994-2013, was to see how knowledgeable my fellow classmates were on this issue. We are taught in history books about migrants migrating every year across the border. In college, there are talks about border deaths in specific classes. The media also report about this issue.
To engage my classmates, I composed my project into a three-round guessing game. Round one, they had to guess which state had below 200 deaths, between 300-800 deaths, and over 1,000 deaths in 1994-2000. Round two, they tried to guess which two states had between 300-800 deaths and which one had over 1,000 deaths in 2001-2007. In the final round, they guessed which state had below 200 deaths and which two states had over 1,000 deaths in 2008-2013. At the end I revealed the right information, and everyone could see the increase and decrease in each state’s of migrant deaths.
The results are approximate. The article really does not give exact numbers. They are mostly rounded off.

Approximate Deaths Calculated


  • California 655
  • Arizona 183
  • Texas 1,040


  • California 490
  • Arizona 1,095
  • Texas 795


  • California 170
  • Arizona 1,310
  • Texas 1,090

Total approximate deaths about 6,828

Chart of Data


Final Product



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