Los Angeles Times staffer Ellingwood reports on the grim consequences of President Clinton’s get-tough strategy against illegal immigration.
The US and Mexico share a twisty international border nearly 2,000 miles long, encompassing four American and six Mexican states. Such a vast distance provides many opportunities for Mexican citizens to look longingly across the border at the golden land where the promise of a better life beckons. For many years, hundreds of illegal crossers, smugglers, and bandits gathered after nightfall for mad dashes across the border, where outnumbered US agents gave futile chase. That all changed when Operation Gatekeeper was launched in San Diego in October 1994. The effect was immediate: with many more agents stationed along the border, crossers were forced to seek out more isolated, dangerous areas. The number of deaths rose each succeeding year as the immigrants desperately roved farther east into desolate stretches of the Arizona-Mexico border, seeking areas with fewer agents. It is against this backdrop that Ellingwood sets his narrative, evocatively capturing border life as he grittily portrays those who reside on both sides. The most fascinating part here depicts the 150-year-old border’s distant past. Ellingwood has a real knack for sketching out vignettes of life in the region during the mid-18th century; the people of that long-ago time spring vividly to life. He does equally well in his revealing tales of modern border dwellers: Mexican immigrants, American ranchers, and Native Americans are all captured in spare, unflinching descriptions. Saddest of all are the author’s grim stories of those who risk their lives to cross the border, through an unforgiving landscape.
A raw portrait of would-be immigrants.