‘Echoes From the Wall: Real Stories of Mexican Immigrants’ by Judy King (with Tony Burton, Arturo Garcia and Richard Rhoda). Groppe Libros (Guadalajara, 2019).
Reviewed by Michael Hogan
For those on both sides of the growing divide regarding immigration, border walls and U.S.-Mexican policies, this book by Judy King is a refreshing and valuable addition. While it recounts many poignant interviews of migrants’ trials and sufferings, as well as stories of deported U.S. Army veterans and students deprived of deserved opportunities, it is never argumentative and never one-sided. It is a balanced and clear-headed look at the problems confronting us today, which for decades have been obfuscated by the self-interest of certain agencies and corporations and manipulated by politicians wiling to distort the facts to win elections.
King provides the reader with an in-depth study of Mexican migration from the 1840s, when the United States took half of Mexico’s territory though military force. She continues through World War I, when the United States invited Mexican workers to replace soldiers going off to war, through the mass deportations of the Depression era, to the Bracero Movement – when again they were invited to work during World War II. She completes the picture with the return to seasonal crossings in the Eisenhower and Kennedy days, to the evolution of the Draconian system in place today.
King’s consummate skill as an interviewer gives the reader a bird’s eye view of the very real danger of border crossings in recent times with a chilling assessment of the deaths incurred by those seeking a better life. Even more troubling, she recounts the stories of U.S. citizens arrested for merely providing water in the desert to those who were in danger of death by exposure and dehydration.
But this is not simply a collection of stories about undocumented migrants, or an overview of the border wall, or the historical changes, or the loss of life (which is so underreported in the press), or even the abuse of children in detention centers. It is also the story of corporate greed and the ostensibly legal but clearly immoral collusion between lawmakers and prison-for-profit corporations to create crimes where none existed before and build hundreds of detention centers throughout the United States.
For most of the 20th century, the U.S. Border Patrol processed and then deported undocumented migrants within hours. However, within the past two decades, the American Legislative Council, a conservative action group, began writing draft legislation criminalizing these migrants (changing the terminology from “undocumented” to “illegal”) and submitting their proposals to ambitious conservative legislators. In cooperation with the Corrections Corporation of America (now Core Civic Inc.) and the GEO Group, the two major prison management corporations, these legislators garnered enough votes to not only criminalize the migrants but to build a myriad of new prisons (euphemistically called “detention centers”) to incarcerate them. Now there are a dozen such corporations throughout the United States working with a budget of over US$4 billion and incarcerating over 40,000 immigrants at any given time.
The United States now holds the dubious distinction of being the country with the largest number of people incarcerated in its prison system per capita, with over 2.5 million in prison, jails and detention centers, and at least 700,000 yet to be convicted of any real crime. More than 14,000 of these are children living in deplorable conditions – overcrowding, reduced staff and marginal medical facilities – due to cost-saving cutbacks by these profit-oriented management groups. Over 170 of those being held have since died in custody.
A bonus addition to this insightful book are three chapters by experts in their field. Arturo Garcia, a well-known Mexican-American artist and activist, discusses what happens to U.S.-naturalized children when one of their parents is deported. Meanwhile, geographer Tony Burton shows not only the pointlessness of a border wall but also the negative impact it would have on migrating wildlife and on indigenous Tohono O’odham people who live in the region. Finally, academic Richard Rhoda provides the reader with a wealth of useful statistics, including the fact that Mexican immigration to the United States between 2009 and 2014 was a negative 130,000, when a million returned to Mexico compared to 870,000 moving north.
In this artfully portrayed collection of stories, statistics, investigative reports, history and anecdotes, the reader is introduced to the complexities and nuances of this broken system. King challenges old assumptions and provides a fresh take on the immigration debate. In addition, she provides a “Frequently Asked Questions” section at the end along with a glossary of terms, and a list of books for further reading. It is a volume that should grace the bookshelf of every concerned citizen on both sides of the border.
“Echoes from the Wall” is available at Diane Pearl Collection in Ajijic, and at Amazon and Barnes and Noble online.
Michael Hogan is the author of best-selling “The Irish Soldiers of Mexico” and “Abraham Lincoln and Mexico.” He lives in Guadalajara.