The Migrant Quilt Project is a collaborative effort of artists and quiltmakers to express compassion for migrants from Mexico and Central America who died in the Southern Arizona deserts on their way to create better lives for themselves and their families. Materials used in the quilts were collected at migrant layup sites used for rest and shelter on established trails in the Sonoran Desert.
Between 2004 and 2005, a record number of 282 migrants perished in the Tucson Sector, the border region between New Mexico and Yuma. The increase in deaths moved Jody Ipsen to take action to alleviate the tragic loss of life. As she hiked remote migrant trails with fellow humanitarians, they collected clothing, cans and water bottles left behind by migrants. Initially, they recycled some items and threw away the dirty clothes until Jody realized that the textile-based discards could be used to make quilts to communicate the reality of migrants’ deaths. She reached out to quiltmakers and artists to create quilts from the blue jeans, bandanas, work shirts and embroidered cloths she gathered in the desert. Quilts would represent deaths from each year since 2000 when the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office began documenting the names of deceased migrants.
Each Migrant Quilt lists the deaths for a specific federal fiscal year, coinciding with the U.S. government’s record-keeping. The name of each individual who died that year is inscribed on the quilt, with the word “unknown” or “desconocido” used to designate an unidentified person’s remains. Quiltmakers are free to design their quilts however they desire. The Migrant Quilt Project shares the quilts at exhibits and immigration conferences and on its Facebook page.
The Migrant Quilts carry the stories of those who died so that viewers of the quilts may understand the real, personal, and fatal results of inhumane border policies, including NAFTA, CAFTA, Operation Gatekeeper, Safeguard, and Hold the Line. Immigration into the United States from its southern neighbors has slowed in recent years but the deaths continue to occur unabated as migrants are forced to cross the border into more remote and hostile areas where there is little to no help.
We hope that viewing the Migrant Quilts will inspire you to consider the conditions under which our fellow human beings take the ultimate risk to find more secure lives for themselves and their families and that you will be inspired to support humane changes in border policies.