Robin Reineke

Assistant Research Social Scientist

About Robin Reineke

Robin Reineke, PhD is Assistant Research Social Scientist at the University of Arizona’s Southwest Center and Affiliated Faculty at the School of Anthropology and at the Department of Latin American Studies. She is a sociocultural anthropologist with specializations in transnational migration, science and technology studies, human rights, forensic anthropology, and the anthropology of death. Her research and fieldwork are focused on the US-Mexico border region, especially the Sonoran Desert. Dr. Reineke's research centers on questions relating to forensics, evidence, and care, including: What qualifies as "evidence" and who has the power to create forums where evidence is presented and discussed? How are forensic methodologies employed as a critical social practice outside of state practices of policing? What can the history of forensic anthropology reveal about the history of anthropology and race and racism in the US? How has migration along the US-Mexico border changed forensic science? What are the impacts of US border militarization on local human and nonhuman communities? 

Dr. Reineke's research has investigated the impact of border deaths and disappearances on immigrant communitiies, and the ways in which families of missing migrants have changed the practice of forensic science in the US-Mexico borderlands. From 2006 - 2020, she spent significant time working with the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner doing ethnographic research and collaborating in the development of various projects and initiatives to address the challenges of unidentified human remains and missing persons in the borderlands. These initiatives included development of the nonprofit, nongovernmental organization, the Colibrí Center for Human Rights, which Reineke co-founnded and directed from 2013 - 2019. 

Dr. Reineke is currently working on her first book, The Forensics of Human Identification at the Border: An Ethnographic Study, which focuses on the experiences of forensic authorities and volunteers as they navigated their work in an era of mass death along the US-Mexico border. The book is particularly concerned with questions of how forensic scientists created procedures and practices in a gray zone between the law and ethics, between best practice standards and budget limitations, and between local and federal responsibility. Together with her research colleague Dr. Natalia Mendoza Rockwell, Dr. Reineke is also currently working on a binational research project called Forensic Citizenship in the Borderlands. This visual, oral history, and ethnographic project is focused on understanding civilian forensic expertise and critical practice on both sides of the Arizona-Sonora border. The project is funded by the University of Arizona Libraries' Digital Borderlands Program and the ConfluenceCenter for Creative Inquiry's Fronteridades Faculty Fellowship.

Dr. Reineke is from Seattle, Washington. She received a BA in anthropology from Bryn Mawr College, and a Master’s and Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Arizona. Her work has been featured in the BBC, CNN, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Economist, The Nation, and the documentary film, Who Is Dayani Cristal? She was awarded the Institute for Policy Studies’ Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award and Echoing Green’s Global Fellowship in 2014.

Selected Publications

Refereed Journal Articles

2022                Forensic Citizenship among Families of Missing Migrants along the U.S.-Mexico Border. Citizenship Studies 0 (0): 1–17.

2021                Two Decades of Death and Disappearance along the U.S.-Mexico Border. Hot Spots, Fieldsights, October 19. Reineke, Robin C.

2021                Skeletal evidence of structural violence among undocumented migrants from Mexico and Central America. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. August. 1-22. (Jared S. Beatrice, Angela Soler, Robin C. Reineke, Daniel E. Martínez).

2021                Ambiguous Loss and Embodied Grief Related to Mexican Migrant Disappearances. Medical Anthropology 0 (0): 1–14. (Rebecca M. Crocker, Robin C. Reineke, and María Elena Ramos Tovar).

2017      Hughes, Cris., Bridgett Algee-Hewitt, Robin Reineke, Elizabeth Clausing and Bruce Anderson, Temporal Patterns of Mexican Migrant Genetic Ancestry: Implications for Identification. American Anthropologist, 119: 193–208.

2014      Martinez, Daniel and Robin Reineke. “Structural Violence and Migrant Deaths in Southern Arizona: Data from the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, 1990-2013.” Journal of Migration and Human Security. JMHS Volume 2 Number 4 (2014): 257-286.


Chapters in Books and Monographs

2019      Reineke, Robin. “Necroviolence and Postmortem Care Along the U.S.-Mexico Border,” in The Border and Its Bodies, edited by Thomas Sheridan and Randall McGuire, University of Arizona Press, forthcoming Fall 2019.

2018      Reineke, Robin. Foreword. In Sociopolitics of Migrant Death and Repatriation: Perspectives from Forensic Science, edited by Krista E. Latham and Alyson O’Daniel. Bioarchaeology and Social Theory Series, Springer International

2016      Reineke, Robin and Bruce E. Anderson. Missing in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. In Missing Persons: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on the Disappeared, edited by Derek Congram. Canadian Scholars’ Press.

2016      Reineke, Robin. Los Desaparecidos de la frontera: The missing of the border. In: R Rubio-Goldsmith, C Fernández, J Finch, and A Masterson-Algar (eds) Migrant Deaths in the Arizona Desert: La vida no vale nada (Life is Worthless). Tucson: University of Arizona Press.


Other Publications

2019       Reineke, Robin. “Artifact: Unnamed Fishing Vessel.” Borderlore Magazine, Southwest Folklife Alliance. 2019.

2016       Reineke, Robin. Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains at the United States–Mexico Border. In Fatal Journeys 2: Identification and Tracing of Dead and Missing MigrantsInternational Organization for Migration (IOM).

2014       Reineke, Robin and Daniel Martinez. “Migrant deaths in the Americas.” In Fatal Journeys: Tracking Lives Lost During Migration, edited by the International Organization for Migration.

2013       Reineke, Robin. “Lost in the System: Unidentified Bodies on the Border.” North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) Report on the Americas, Summer 2013.

2013      Martinez, Daniel and Robin Reineke. “Undocumented Border Crosser Deaths in Southern Arizona.” Border Criminologies, June 22 2013.

2013      Martinez, Daniel and Robin Reineke. “New Report Shows that Migrant Deaths Remain High in Arizona.” North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) Border Wars Blog, June 5, 2013.

2013      Martinez, Daniel, Robin Reineke, Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith, Bruce E. Anderson, Gregory L. Hess, Bruce O. Parks, A Continued Humanitarian Crisis at the Border: Undocumented Border Crosser Deaths Recorded by the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, 1990 – 2012. Report Published by the Binational Migration Institute, June.

Selected Media and News Appearances

CNN, "'No Olvidado': These Americans find and bury missing migrants."

New York Times, “They Died Near the Border. Art Students Hope to Bring Them Back.” March 2, 2018.

CNN, United Shades of America with Kamau Bell, May 28, 2018.

Washington Post, “Search for missing migrants: Families hope DNA will guide them to lost loved ones.” December 11, 2017.

Reveal News, “The deadliest route to the American dream.” March 3, 2017.

Los Angeles Times, “In Arizona, Border Patrol doesn’t include dozens of deaths in tally of migrants who perish.” December 15, 2016.

NBC News, “Finding Missing Migrants, or Their Remains, is Grim Border Work.” August 18, 2015.

The Independent, “Finding Names for America’s Shame.” July 25, 2014.

BBC News, Missing Migrants: The Documentary. March 17, 2014.

Documentary Film, “Who is Dayani Cristal?”, Directed by Marc Silver, feature-length documentary film distributed by Kino Lorber, February 2014.

ABC News, Nightline, “Tracing the Human Cost of Immigration.” January 3, 2014.

New York Times, “Bodies on the Border,” Op-Doc by Marc Silver, August 17, 2013.

Arizona Daily Star, Discoveries of crossers’ bodies now at lowest level in 10 years. Perla Treviso, February 21, 2013

Public Radio International’s The World, “Identifying the Migrants Who Die Crossing the US/Mexico Border.” January 24, 2013.

BBC World Service, Outlook Program, Naming the Dead on the Mexican Border, December 24, 2012.

Los Angeles Times, “Arizona county's grim lost and found.”, October 17, 2012.

National Public Radio’s State of the Reunion, “Tucson: Borderlands,” 17, 2012.

Arizona Daily Star, Nearly 1,700 bodies, each one a mystery.” August 24, 2010.


Courses Taught

ANTH 365: Introduction to Forensic Anthropology

ANTH 150B: Many Ways of Being Human

Areas of Study

United States

US - Mexico Border

Mexico & Mesoamerica

Latin America & the Caribbean


The Forensics of Human Identification at the Border: An Ethnographic Study

Lead by Principal Investigator Robin Reineke, this ethnographic study investigates the science and technology of human identification along the U.S.-Mexico border. Through in-depth ethnographic research with both governmental and nongovernmental forensic scientists, this study will contribute to understandings of how institutions, bureaucracies, and scientific practices operate. As the deaths and disappearances of Latin American migrants increased dramatically in Southern Arizona in the early 2000s, a local medicolegal office in Tucson was transformed. Practitioners at this office responded innovatively, creatively, and at times, radically in ways that stand along the border. This ethnography investigates the history of this office’s work to identify and make visible the victims of U.S. border militarization, and seeks to understand the confluences of science, technology, ethics, and local history that has made its work unique along the U.S.-Mexico border. In addition, this project investigates the ways in which massive human migrations are changing forensic science, and perhaps revealing the ways in which some dominant paradigms in forensic science and human rights that are proving to be ill-equipped to manage death and disappearance at the scale of modern global migrations.


Forensic Citizenship in the Borderlands

Together with Dr. Natalia Mendoza Rockwell and Miguel Fernandez de Castro. Forensic Citizenship in the Borderlands is a visual and oral history project that will document, analyze, and share the stories of civilian forensic expertise on both sides of the Arizona-Sonora border. Working closely with the UA libraries and two community organizations, Madres Buscadoras and the Colibrí Center for Human Rights, this project will create an interactive website to highlight this work and explore forensics in the landscape of the borderlands. The site will feature three components: interviews with citizen-forensic experts, videography of the landscape in which they work, and a binational map displaying the GPS locations where they have found or identified human remains. This project will broaden the national and international understanding of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands by presenting a fully binational view of border-related violence, and by making visible the leadership, expertise, and action on the part of those impacted. The story this project will tell is one about regular people in the borderlands who step up to do extraordinary work; who not only make visible violence occurring in the borderlands but also challenge the authority of the state by becoming forensic experts.

The Borderlands Observatory

Comprised of partners from the Southwest Center, the School of Geography, the Southern Border Communities Coalition, and Borderlands Restoration Network, the Borderlands Observatory is building an ethical and equitable program of collaborative inquiry among academic, humanitarian, and environmental communities in the borderlands. A central goal of the observatory is to develop a framework for collaboration between researchers and community partners to protect, extend, and communicate the innovative local ways that human and non-human communities have resisted, restored, and flourished in the context of border militarization. The observatory will utilize ESRI ArcGIS Community Engagement Software (ArcGIS Hub) to build a web platform for collating and presenting border data and stories, and allowing for direct community participation. It is hoped that such a platform, which is both technical and social, will increase the diversity of voices in discussions of environmental and border issues and planning.

Research Interests

science and technology studies, forensic anthropology, the anthropology of humanitarianism and human rights, death and the dead body, surveillance, global migration, U.S.-Mexico border