Thanksgiving could be seen as a celebration of immigration, since the original celebrants were immigrants, after all. But many of those engaged in the hot political debate over immigration reform today would argue that the United States is particularly hostile to immigrants these days, especially when it comes to children who are fleeing violence in their home countries and/or seeking out family members here.
For this week’s podcast, we talk with Sonia Nazario, the prize-winning journalist and author of Enrique’s Journey – a riveting account of a Honduran boy’s desperate and dangerous search for his mother who more than a decade earlier had migrated to the United States to earn money to help her family back home. The book is a thriller, which makes the abstract issue of immigration reform deeply personal, real and compelling.
Nazario, who will be the keynote speaker for this year’s Global Washington conference in Seattle on Dec. 3, won a Pulitzer Prize for the LA Times series of stories that eventually led to this book. As the daughter of immigrants who moved to the United States to escape Argentina’s Dirty War, Nazario knows this issue inside and out. And she emphasizes that, when it comes to children, this needs to be seen as a refugee crisis.
“Like many, I initially thought unlawful immigrants were mostly men seeking work,” Nazario tells Tom Paulson in the podcast discussion. What she soon discovered was a huge wave of children migrating north in search of their parents.
What Nazario also discovered, when she took many personal risks herself by traveling with these young immigrants, retracing Enrique’s multiple attempts to find his mother, was that children were getting killed, maimed, abused en route by drug traffickers or gangs – and then are treated as criminals in the United States if they survive the trip to El Norte.
“Our immigration policy just tears these families apart,” she said. What we need is a more humane immigration policy, Nazario said, that distinguishes between those unlawful economic immigrants who should be deported from the many children, women and others who are best seen as refugees.
“As a nation, how can we turn our backs on these vulnerable children?” Nazario said. President Obama’s plan to take executive action to prevent the deportation of perhaps millions of such immigrants deserving of such haven is a positive step, she said. But it’s not enough, Nazario said, if we, as Americans, want to truly view ourselves as a humane and principled nation – of immigrants. “We need a new approach.”
In addition to speaking Dec. 3 at the Global Washington conference, Nazario will be speaking and signing books at other events in Seattle including a talk with students at Overlake High School and at an evening public lecture sponsored by the World Affairs Council on Dec. 4 at Seattle University.
Oh, and here’s Sonia on The Daily Show – the most influential news organization in the world.