Miami attorney Jack Swyteck battles to save an undocumented Salvadorian immigrant caught between the abusive husband she fled and the majesty of the U.S. government.
Barista Julia Rodriguez’s job at Café de Caribe ends the moment she emphatically rejects the advances of cafe manager Duncan McBride, who promptly dimes her out to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Only Julia’s heroism and quick thinking prevent her 14-year-old daughter, Beatriz, from being swept up along with her. Brought to Jack’s attention by her aunt, Cecelia Varga, and Jack’s grandmother, Beatriz only wants to be reunited with her mother. But that’s one tall order, as Jack (A Death in Live Oak, 2018, etc.) quickly learns. Julia’s not eligible for asylum because she was charged with a felony back in El Salvador: aborting the baby who was the product of one of the many rapes she suffered at the hands of her husband, brutal gangster Jorge Rodriguez. Flexing his muscles in court, Jack gets Julia released from detention just in time for her to discover Duncan McBride’s corpse in her bathtub. Small wonder that Beatriz, faced with her mother’s reimprisonment, withdraws into a life-threatening case of resignation syndrome, leading to an ugly paradox: an immigration judge orders Julia released until Beatriz’s health improves, but as soon as it does, Julia’s detained again even though the price will be Beatriz’s relapse. Working with his old buddy Theo Knight, Jack makes two trips to El Salvador, but what he learns there just deepens his client’s peril, which turns on another paradox. There’s every indication that Jorge Rodriguez has followed Julia to the U.S., but his presence there, if he really is there, undermines her case for asylum, which depends on the argument that she’d face imminent danger back in El Salvador, even as it puts her in clear and present danger here and now.
Grippando is equally skillful at ratcheting up the tension and plucking at your heartstrings. Only the ending, which acknowledges just how intractable the plight of undocumented immigrants has become, is a letdown.