Author puts human faces on complexities of immigration debate
With a poet's knack for words, a journalist's observational skills and a theologian's insights into religion's moving force even if it pushes people in opposite directions, Ananda Rose humanizes the complexities and controversies of the U.S. immigration debate in "Showdown in the Sonoran Desert."
Her book was spurred by the growing number of deaths in the inhospitable desert along the U.S.-Mexican border. It goes beyond the current politics and polemics over an outdated policy to show the effect the present crisis has on real people along the border. In doing so, Rose undertakes the difficult but needed task of reframing the immigration debate so it focuses more on drafting policies to help people sucked into this crisis.
We meet three Mexican nuns on the Mexican side who work long hours staffing a soup kitchen and an overnight refuge for people about to sneak into the U.S. or those freshly deported.
Rose interviews a U.S. Border Patrol agent who named his daughter after a dehydrated girl he met in a hospital after his colleagues found her barely alive alongside her dead mother in the harsh desert.
The book tells of a Honduran on the Mexican side who refuses medical advice to go to a hospital and get the deep gash on his thigh treated. He fears hospital officials will turn him over to Mexican authorities as he is in the country illegally on his way to the American dream.
Rose introduces us to a Mexican-American rancher in Arizona who fears that illegal immigration is directly threatening the safety of his family, property and livestock.
Further complicating the issue, Rose notes, is that illegal immigration has become wrapped up in drug smuggling into the United States and weapons trafficking into Mexico, increasing the violence and danger along the border.
These personal dramas pose hard questions more than easy answers. By putting human faces on this immigration crisis, though, Rose aims to divert a U.S. debate focusing almost exclusively on numbers games: the size of border fences, visa quotas and the speed of deportation proceedings.
Whether politicians will accept her challenge of spending time at the border, as she did, before drafting their speeches and policies is doubtful. It is also uncertain whether the U.S. and Mexican governments will develop policies based on solving the needs of the real people interviewed in the book.
Rose, besides being a poet and journalist, has a doctorate from Harvard Divinity School, where she specialized in religion, law and immigration. She weaves theological and philosophical themes into her reporting. These border dramas are seen as pitting biblical injunctions of respect for law against those of welcoming the stranger, especially when in need.
The book discusses various Christian groups motivated by what Rose calls a Gospel-based "radical hospitality" to aid immigrants by such activities as providing water tanks along key travel routes. Members of the Minutemen and other Arizona vigilante groups are interviewed, saying their actions are needed because the federal government is fostering danger by not enforcing its own laws.
Rose deftly summarizes the arguments about security by borrowing from Robert Frost's poem, "Mending Fences." She pit's the narrator's view that "Something there is that doesn't love a wall" against that of the narrator's neighbor: "Good fences make good neighbors." There is no clear answer in the poem. Nor does Rose offer any comprehensive solutions to the border crisis.
What she requests is development of a "radical vision" based on that of Jesus, who often shocked his audiences by advocated a social logic that opposed contemporary norms, to provoke a deeper moral vision of the problem.
The chances that public figures and politicians would even consider such an approach in today's highly ideological climate is unlikely. But at least someone has stood up to say that the first step is recasting the issue into one of solving the concrete problems of real people not responsible for a broken immigration policy.
Bono, a retired CNS staff writer, covered Hispanic issues.
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