In this never-ending election cycle, immigration has been a source of constant debate amongst our candidates. As a long-time refugee champion, I have some definite feelings about refugee policies & quotas. Yet, I'll be the first to admit that I know far more about refugees than I do about the larger group to which they belong: Immigrants.
Despite my ignorance, I long to better understand the immigrant's journey. I want to know what compels someone to leave their country and come – sometimes illegally – to the United States in search of a better life. Because I long to know these things, I'm excited to be taking an intergenerational team on an immigration learning lab – a Peacemaking Trip – this summer through the Global Immersion Project.
As part of our preparation for this trip, our team read and discussed Sonia Nazario's Enrique's Journey. Among other things, this book takes the statistics so often quoted (and misquoted) by our Presidential candidates and puts a human face on one immigrant's journey, a young boy named Enrique. It traces Enrique's journey from Honduras to the United States in search of his mother, who left Honduras 11 years earlier in order to better provide for her family.
In so many ways, Enrique's Journey is a harrowing read, recounting the perilous journey that thousands of immigrants take each year in order to get to the United States. It tells of the dangers that are inherently a part of this journey: Falling off trains, being beaten up or raped by gangs, starvation, weather, drowning, and being arrested and perhaps deported by the immigration police. For years I've known about the dangers refugees face. But until reading Enrique's Journey, I was blissfully unaware of the dangers immigrants face.
In addition to the dangers immigrants face during the journey to the United States, Enrique's Journey highlights the racism and discrimination immigrants often encounter, not just after arriving in the US but throughout the journey itself. It's eye-opening to hear about the divide in Mexico over the illegal immigrants arriving there from Central America. Seeing illegal immigration through the lens of another culture will give readers a new perspective at the debate raging here in the United States.
Enrique's Journey also showcases the relational turmoil the immigration journey inflicts on families, as parents (including mothers) make the difficult choice to willingly be separated from their children in order to better provide for them. As a result, immigrant children often feel abandoned, something that has lasting (and often detrimental) consequences on relationships even if children are, at some point, reunited with their parents.
Despite showcasing the hardships immigrants so often face, Sonia reminds us that “Immigrants who come to the US are by nature optimists. They have to be in order to leave everything they love.” She also reminds us that although Enrique's Journey tells the story of one immigrant, there are thousands of others like Enrique who are “changing the face of immigration to the United States” as they “become a greater part of the fabric of the United States.”
While Enrique's Journey won't necessarily enable you to figure out how to solve the immigration issues facing our country, it will, without a doubt, give you a new perspective on immigration based not on misinformation and fear but rather on the well-researched, compelling story of a boy that represents the face of immigration in the United States, both now and in the immediate future.