Markham relies on her roles as a journalist and a worker in the realm of refugee resettlement and immigrant education to craft a powerful narrative about an experience that plays out every day in the United States.
Focusing primarily on one family’s struggle to survive in violence-riddled El Salvador by sending some of its members illegally to the U.S., the author never loses sight of the big-picture issues regarding immigration. Throughout, she inserts brief chapters about those concerns in a compellingly intimate narrative about the Flores family. Markham keenly examines the plights of juveniles sent to America without adult supervision, a large, constantly growing contingent that includes twins Ernesto and Raúl Flores, who sought to escape their hometown because they feared for their lives among the rampant gang violence plaguing their country. Knowing almost nothing about the U.S., the Flores twins lacked both money for their journey and any marketable job skills, and they spoke no English. Their journey was harrowing, to say the least (spoilers omitted), and their transition to life in the U.S., mostly in Oakland, continues, raising new difficulties each day. As they have tried to balance their minimum-wage restaurant jobs with education, the schooling has suffered. Meanwhile, their parents and most of their siblings continue to live in highly dangerous circumstances in El Salvador. Markham met the twins in her job as a counselor at a public high school with a heavy influx of juvenile refugees without documentation, and her experience in that role informs the eye-opening narrative. Most of the book takes place before the election of Donald Trump, but it’s clear that the policies of the new administration will make the lives of the Flores twins and countless others even more terrifying.
One of the most searing books on illegal immigration since Sonia Nazario’s Enrique’s Journey (2006).