Rempell’s debut novel explores immigration through the eyes of those fighting to make their way into America—and the people trying to keep them out.
A young Chinese woman, who has witnessed violent government repression, travels in the belly of a ship while under constant threat of sexual assault; she’s been sold into indentured servitude to pay off her smugglers. An HIV-positive Mexican rape victim crawls through the desert in desperate need of medical attention, hoping to provide a better life for her children. A former Ethiopian government official, on the wrong side of a revolution, makes his way to New York after being tortured and set on fire by rebels. These three narratives seem to make obvious arguments for granting asylum to immigrants who have suffered. But such cases are rarely simple, and Rempell, an assistant professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, encourages readers to consider both sides of the immigration debate. He portrays the real challenges faced by immigration officials—such as immigrants falsifying testimony before a judge to ensure amnesty or stealing United States citizens’ Social Security numbers—and reminds readers that entering the U.S. illegally can have detrimental consequences. The novel’s title refers to the five grounds that allow an immigrant to avoid deportation: political opinion, religion, ethnicity, race or social group. Despite the fact that Sofia was assaulted and faces almost certain retribution if she were to return to Mexico, it’s possible her tragic case may not provide legal reason enough to grant asylum. As one character says, “A lot of shitty things happen to a lot of good people in this world. You can’t expect the United States to take everyone in.” Rempell, a former immigration attorney, succeeds in putting a human face on what some might argue is a cut-and-dried issue and presents a powerful case for re-examining current legislation.
A creative novel about a complex, topical subject.