A writer and immigrant rights activist’s account of his long path to citizenship and critique of United States immigration policies, especially regarding undocumented workers.
In July 2011, just a few months after his 26th birthday, Orduña, a Mexican national who lived most of his life in the U.S., became a naturalized American citizen. Though he felt no different than he had before, he knew that citizenship would allow him “to join [a] club” that previously had been closed to him. Yet due to what he had seen his hardworking Mexican immigrant parents undergo as “removable aliens” with expired visas and what he knew of the history and lives of other undocumented Mexican immigrants, he could not accept his new status uncritically. Orduña examines his personal experiences as an immigrant in the context of the racist, contradictory, and sometimes-punitive American immigration system. Fully aware that the American dream has been built on the exploitation of workers like his parents, he excoriates media portrayals of illegal immigrants as invaders that threaten the “health of many Americans.” Such pathologizing narratives have given rise to distrust—heightened by post–9/11 paranoia—of dark-skinned “others” like the author. Xenophobia is embedded in everything from interactions with immigration officials to the many other procedures immigrants must contend with. Orduña bitterly observes the process leading up to his actual naturalization: his “whereabouts, purchases and behaviors [had to be made] known” and cataloged just as his “associates [had to be] scrutinized and his “intentions justified.” Though the author was ultimately successful in his pursuit of citizenship, dealing with the immigration system—and by extension, the U.S. government—was like being “trapped in an abusive relationship with a sociopath.” Articulate and timely, Orduña’s book probes the underside of the American dream while offering a fierce vision of the way race and class continue to shape government policy in a country that still bills itself as the land of opportunity for all.
Sharp-eyed and unsparing.