When reporters write about illegal immigration it’s about the problems. They write about tensions between political parties and what each party thinks are the solutions to said problems. They write about conflicts within neighborhoods, fathers and mothers being deported, children left behind, and more and more problems. That is what makes the following articles so interesting. Each of the articles is written from a unique perspective and steps outside of the typical “immigration is a problem” scenario. Their newness and relevancy provides a fresh glimpse or a boots-on-the-ground look at immigration that I hope we continue to see in immigration features.
Viewing Illegal Immigration Through Desert Debris by Eric Wagner, Miller-McCune
Wagner writes about immigration from a new perspective. He follows Jason De León, an archeologist, who studies the debris left behind by immigrants on their journey from Mexico to southern Arizona and tries to make sense of it through archeological research (debris at the site) and ethnographic research (oral interviews.)
Wagner’s firsthand descriptions of picking through litter in the vast emptiness of the Sonoran Desert tell a grim story of the reality faced by undocumented immigrants on their trek to a “better life.” He describes finding pieces of bones including teeth and a rib and a discarded child’s backpack. He writes in the first person, inviting us to join him as he treads this grisly path of discarded memories.
His written pictures, augmented with an accompanying slide show of images, allow our imaginations to roam free. It isn’t pretty but it makes for a great, well-written article.
At the Border, on the Night Watch by Marc Lacey, The New York Times
The border fence. It stretches for miles. Herman Cain wants to electrify it. Millions have crossed it. Thousands are still trying. This is the backdrop for “At the Border, on the Night Watch,” an article written by Marc Lacey of the New York Times.
I love this article for several reasons. One, it’s short. Two, it’s exciting. Three, it has a good chase scene. We all love a good chase scene. Lacey is on a ride along with the Border Patrol. It’s dark, the radio is crackling, and they are searching for potential crossers. He writes in the first person but breaks out of it to give history of the fence’s evolution. He manages to do both, naturally and without boring his readership.
The most interesting facet of the article is to learn about the tactics used by border crossers to hide their tracks and then to learn how ineffectual those tactics are when confronted with the advanced tracking technology used by the Border Control.
The chase scene not only involves catching an illegal immigrant but a drug smuggler, too. You can feel the trap tighten around the runner and, as you read, you wonder if he truly understands the futility of it all.
My Life as an Immigrant by Jose Antonio Vargas, The New York Times
This article is striking for its reality. The writer reached the “American Dream” which is what so many cross the border in search of. He had it all. He didn’t get caught. He went to high school AND college. He even had a driver’s license. But, the most poignant part of the piece was that he was miserable. Reaching the “American Dream” found him more trapped and miserable than if he would have not succeeded at all. Or, at least, that is how the writer and subject of the piece, Jose Antonio Vargas, puts it.
The article entraps the reader. Here is a Pulitzer Prize winner who, seemingly, has everything most people, whether here legally or illegally, could ever want and he is miserable. You have a hard time feeling sorry for the guy but he does seem to be very unhappy.
His response to his self-imposed trap is to figuratively “turn himself in.” He doesn’t go to the authorities and ask to be deported but he does “out” himself to former bosses, co-workers, and the world. It is a fascinating read and a well-written article.