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Robin Reineke

About Robin Reineke

Robin C. Reineke, PhD is Assistant Research Social Scientist in Anthropology at the University of Arizona’s Southwest Center. Her research centers on the social processes of forensic human identification and disappearance in the southern Arizona borderlands. Early on in her research for this project, Reineke identified an unmet need for thousands of families of missing migrants—they could not easily report a missing loved one on the border, and hence, data that could identify the dead was not making it to forensic scientists. This compelled her to found the Missing Migrant Project in 2006, and then co-found the Colibrí Center for Human Rights in 2013. Reineke’s professional story is one of working at the boundaries—between the U.S., and Mexico, between the disciplines of cultural anthropology and forensic anthropology, and between the academic and nonprofit sectors. Her research and teaching interests include science and technology studies, forensics, humanitarianism, global migration, and human rights along the U.S.-Mexico border. From Seattle, Washington, Reineke 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

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.

Refereed Journal Articles

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.

Other Publications

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

Introduction to Forensic Anthropology

Many Ways of Being Human


Areas of Study

United States

US - Mexico Border

Mexico & Mesoamerica

Latin America & the Caribbean



Border Forensis Lab at the Southwest Center

Rather than individual legal case investigation, researchers at the Southwest Center approach forensic research and intervention in a collective forum where evidence is collected and shared with various publics across disciplinary boundaries. The Southwest Center’s Border Forensis Lab is a transdisciplinary research consortium focused on the collection and sharing of data, evidence, and histories related to migration and border enforcement in the Sonoran Desert region of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. The modern cultural connotation of the word forensic has come be narrowly conceived as state practices of policing, surveillance, and investigation. In the Southwest Center Border Forensis approach, the forensic gaze is broader, and takes a systematic, holistic, historic, and social approach to the idea of “evidence.” The Border Forensis Lab collects and archives evidence provided by a diverse array of disciplinary approaches including forensic anthropology, geography, architecture, oral history, and ecology. Affiliated researchers (including students) and community members work together to closely examine and document how the Sonoran Desert region has been changed by two interconnected processes that have unfolded over the past twenty years: one of the largest human migrations in the continent’s history, and the local implementation of sweeping U.S.-federal border policies. Key publics include academia, human rights investigations, and the national dialogue about borders and migration.

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.

Health Risks and Coping Strategies in the Families of Disappeared Border Crossers

Every year, hundreds of Mexicans and Central Americans disappear in the Sonoran Desert while crossing over to the United States, paying a terrible price for their efforts to rejoin family members and seek work and safety. The painful effects of these ambiguous losses ricochet widely throughout the migrants’ communities on both sides of the border, compounding already high rates of economic hardship, family separation, and emotional trauma and thereby acting as an important but unexplored social determinant of health. The binational research team, including Principal Investigators Robin Reineke (University of Arizona) and María Elena Ramos Tovar (Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León) and UA researcher Rebecca Crocker, is investigating the health impacts of having missing family members. In-depth thnographic interviews have been completed with 14 families of the disappeared residing in the US Southwest and northern Mexico. Families have reported high levels of negative health outcomes but also relate innovative coping strategies that can be shared for future service interventions. This team will publish preliminary results that will be used to seek funds to support a broader multidisciplinary partnership capable of quantifying the frequency of disease and well-being outcomes in this community. This research is supported by the Research Programs on Migration and Health (PIMSA for its Spanish acronym) through Berkeley Public Health.

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

Robin Reineke's picture

Contact Information

Assistant Research Social Scientist, The Southwest Center, University of Arizona
Telephone: (520) 626-0460
Office: Southwest Center, Room 112. Little Chapel of All Nations, 1401 First street. Building number: 185.
Office Hours: Thursdays from 10 – 12 pm or by appointment


2016 -- PhD, Anthropology, University of Arizona

2009 -- MA, Anthropology, University of Arizona

2004 -- BA, Cultural Anthropology, Bryn Mawr College

Dissertation Title

Naming the Dead: Identification and Ambiguity Along the U.S.-Mexico Border

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