Stout plunges the reader into the social and political upheaval that the immigration question exerts on 21st century America. Personal encounters, conversations, interviews and newspaper accounts provide a vivid and accurate picture of indocumentado life, both in the workplace and at home. They highlight the successes and failures of immigrants, as well as the challenges and contradictions that those who pursue them and deport them face. He chronicles the effects of 60 years of political seesawing that has granted citizenship to over 3 million former Mexican nationals and left another 7 million in limbo. And in addition, he examines why six decades of surveillance, pursuit, raids, fences and deportations have only slightly altered, but not stemmed, the immigrant flow.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents sweep through factories, farms and construction sites from Maine to California herding handcuffed illegals into detention facilities. Immigrants and their supporters block highways, repudiating a House of Representatives proposal to make undocumented entry into the United States a felony. National Guardsmen head towards the U. S.- Mexico frontier where hundreds of men, women and children die every year of heat stroke, dehydration, and starvation. Few other issues have provoked such national outrage since integration and opposition to the war in Vietnam crested in the 1960s. Despite the clamor, the rhetoric, the accusations and the arrests, few people really understand who the undocumented immigrants are, how they get into the United States and why they keep coming.
Stout explains in vivid detail why Spanish-speaking workers leave their homes—and often risk their lives—to seek employment north of the border. The book includes hundreds of interviews and experiences he has shared with migrants, politicians, law officers and farm and sweatshop employers. It's a battleground—it never was before, Mexican-born immigrant Jesus Francisco Reyes told Stout as he watched Border Patrol officers follow helicopter searchlights across a brambled mountainside 80 miles east of San Diego, California. The indocumentados the migra apprehend and send back across the border will add to already overwhelming statistics: over 1 million deportations every year, an estimated 600,000 successful new arrivals, and expenditures on so-called border security topping billions of dollars a year. More than 23 million Americans of Mexican descent live in the United States, 7 million of whom do not have valid work or residency papers. Millions of these immigrants live in poverty but more than 90 percent find employment and over 60 percent send portions of their earnings to their families south of the border. Their remittances provide nearly 70 percent of the incomes of thousands of towns and villages throughout northern and central Mexico and much of Central America. Without them, the economies of those countries would have foundered.
In the wake of several years of contentious debate about how to deal with illegal immigration to the United States and in the midst of a presidential election year in which immigration is likely to feature heavily, Stout's clear-eyed look at what drives illegal immigration is a welcome contribution to the discussion. A journalist, Stout (The Blood of the Serpent: Mexican Lives) relies on hundreds of interviews with immigrants to explore the motivations of workers coming here illegally from Central and South America. He takes a historical perspective, showing how the status of the Spanish-speaking immigrant worker has changed legally and culturally over the years. The assertions regarding the economic impact of immigrant workers are very well sourced by means of excellent notes and references. Though the text is leavened throughout by the personal stories of immigrants, the work is still fairly dense and will interest primarily scholars and students of illegal immigration from Central and South America. For academic libraries.