The migrant issue is always one that is certainly full of diverse emotions, numerous perspectives, and differing experiences. It is a subject that I am familiar with on a personal level, as well as an intellectual level, as I put a lot of time and thought into the subject. I share with you a few words from a writer that has dedicated her professional career to the migrant issue and encourage you to experience various migrant stories of your own.
About the Book: For nearly a decade, Margaret Regan has reported from Arizona on the escalating chaos along the U.S.-Mexico border. Undocumented migrants cross into Arizona in overwhelming numbers, making the state a test case for the nation’s border policies. In 2007, agents in the Tucson Sector alone caught more than a thousand people a day, far more than in other states. The vigilante movement had its roots here, and the state’s employer laws are the most stringent. And for years Arizona has had the highest number of migrant deaths. Fourteen-year-old Josseline was just one of thousands who have perished in its deserts.
With a sweeping perspective and vivid on-the-ground reportage, Regan tells stories of a varied cast of characters while darting back and forth across the border. She rides shot-gun with the Border Patrol, hiking with them for hours in the one-hundred-degree desert; she interviews deported Mexicans and angry Arizona ranchers; she visits migrant shelters in Mexico and camps out in the thorny wilderness with No More Deaths activists. Using Arizona as a microcosm, Regan explores a host of urgent issues: the border militarization that threatens the rights of U.S. citizens, the environmental damage wrought by the new border wall, the desperation that compels migrants to come north, and the human tragedy of the unidentified dead in Arizona’s morgues.
About the Author: Margaret Regan is a longtime journalist in Tucson, Arizona. The art critic at the Tucson Weekly since 1990, she has won more than 50 journalism awards, including a dozen for her border reporting. She has a B.A. in French from the University of Pennsylvania; she studied French in Paris at the Sorbonne and Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala, at the Popol Vuh School. Margaret lives with her family in Tucson, 64 miles from the Mexican border. The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona-Mexico Borderlands is her first book.
Thank you for this interview Margaret. It is good to meet with you to talk about your first book.
The significance of the book’s title, The Death of Josseline as the title story, is the death of a 14-year-old girl from El Salvador who was left behind by her coyote when she fell ill in a mountainous wilderness in southern Arizona, close to the border. She was on her way to Los Angeles with her 10-year-old brother to meet their mother. The mom had left the kids in El Salvador with family while she worked in LA, and had finally saved up enough money to pay a coyote to bring them to the U.S. The younger brother continued on, at Josseline’s insistence, and raised the alarm when he reached LA. Three weeks later a No More Deaths volunteer named Dan Millis found her body in Cedar Canyon. This all happened exactly two years ago.
- Was the death of Josseline the impetus that initiated this writing experience? How did you hear of her story?
No, I had been writing about the border off and on since the year 2000, and I had gathered many migrant stories before Josseline died in 2008. I got a book contract in spring of 2008 and it was in the course of doing new reporting that I learned of her death. I camped out with the No More Deaths activists that summer, and one of their volunteers led me to the remote canyon site where another volunteer had found her body in February. I put her story first in the book, and named the book after her, because her death was so tragic and the circumstances so heartbreaking. She was only 14 years old, and she and her brother had been separated for some years from their mother, who was working in Los Angeles without papers. The mom had to save the money to send for her children. Josseline fell ill and was left behind on the trail in Arizona. The mother didn’t know it until days later when her son, then 10, arrived safely in LA and sounded the alarm. Josseline’s body was found three weeks later.
- What compelled you to dedicate much of your journalistic career to the border issues and undocumented migrants?
My interest began in 2000, when the deaths in Arizona started skyrocketing. Under Operation Gatekeeper, the federal government had sealed off the old urban crossings, in places like El Paso and San Diego, and assumed that the Arizona landscape was so dangerous no one would cross here. That calculation was wrong. Arizona became the chief crossing place, and the place where the most migrants died. Almost 2000 migrant bodies have been found in southern Arizona in the last 10 years. As a journalist, I have felt a moral obligation to bring this story to light. On a personal note: when I first went down to Douglas, Arizona, in 2000 to report on the crisis, I had just researched and written a lengthy piece on the tragic lives of my Irish immigrant great-grandparents, who died young and poor in Philadelphia in the 1880s, after watching two of the children die. When I saw what was happening to the Latino migrants in Arizona in 2000, I thought: the details might be different, but this story is the same as my great-grandparents’ story in all the ways that matter.
- How has this experience affected your perspective on the migrant families and the U.S. immigration policy?
I feel a great compassion toward the migrants I have met. They are motivated primarily by their love for their families and their sense of responsibility to support them. I am in awe of the courage they show in undertaking long and dangerous journeys in order to work. Their work ethic is phenomenal. Whenever I ask somebody what kind of work they plan to do, they seem puzzled. The answer is almost always, I’ll do whatever work there is. U.S. immigration policy has, unwittingly perhaps, caused the deaths of thousands of these hardworking people, and separated families, wrenching babies from their mothers’ arms, imprisoning people for working at low-wage jobs. In the name of homeland security, the government now has the power to curtail the civil liberties of U.S. citizens living in the borderlands. The Patriot Act, in authorizing the building of the border wall, has allowed the unelected Secretary of Homeland Security to overturn 40 years of laws protecting the environment and archaeological treasures.
- Do you have plans to continue authoring books? Was it a difficult process to go from reporting to writing a book?
It was very difficult to go from writing newspaper stories to writing a book! Under my contract, I had only about eight months to turn in the manuscript and I found it hard to do new reporting and research, and the writing, in that time frame. I did use some stories I had previously written as newspaper articles, but even those required updating. I do hope to write more books. I’m thinking of looking at the detention centers in Arizona, part of a vast chain of prisons throughout the country where migrants are held indefinitely for sometimes long periods, with no rights to an attorney.
- Anything else you wish to share with readers?
I hope my book helps other Americans become aware of what’s happening along the border, right here in the United States. Most especially I want them to know that every year at least 200 migrants are found dead in southern Arizona, killed only because they want so much to work and to contribute. As a friend said, if every year Tucson had a plane crash that killed 200 people, the rest of America would sit up and pay attention and take measures to stop the slaughter. I would hope they would do the same when they learn of the state’s annual harvest of migrant deaths.
This book is available at Dulce Bread & Book Shop