This book takes the hot button issue of illegal immigration and examines it up close and personal, from every side including inside and out. The author describes the lives and experiences of four girls of Mexican heritage from high school through college; Two lack legal status, the other two have papers (i.e. legal and have path toward citizenship). The book also covers the surrounding political environment of 2005 through 2009 in Denver, Colorado when the illegal immigration issue exploded because of national political reasons and because of a local incident that involved the murder of a policeman by an undocumented Mexican. The author's husband was Mayor at the time, thus he was in the center of local politics which drew the author into the whirlwind of strong polarized feelings on both sides of the issue.
The author pretty well sums up the book and the issue of immigration in the Preface:"Fortune handed me a messy braid of narratives, spliced together by bizarre connections. In the end, though, this is what immigration is like: inherently messy. The issue bleeds. And we are all implicated."
The issue of immigration status was compounded for these four girls by their being poor and living in an unstable community. Only a third of the girls' high school senior class had attend that same school for three consecutive years. But these particular girls were obviously talented and did well in their high school advanced placement class. They all four were able to get full ride scholarships to college which was certainly an exceptional accomplishment considering their environment. Once in college they generally kept their immigration status a secret from their college friends and professors because they weren't certain who they could trust. This is unfortunate because it kept the girls from fully participating in class discussions about poverty and immigration issues.
Most people would probably consider the author as leaning toward sympathy to the illegals because of the amount of time spent in the book telling the stories of the families that are suffering and divided by the border. She even takes a trip to Mexico to interview the mother of one of the girls. But the author gives attention to both sides of the issue and gives fair representation to the feelings of those who oppose illegal immigration. The author includes an interview with her husband's political opponent, Tom Tancredo, who is an advocate of getting rid of all illegal immigrants. She rode with him in his pickup through the community where he grew up." What I wanted to understand was how someone could grow up on these streets and hold Tancredo's opinions. Why would Tancredo and I -- both of us from immigrant families -- have opposite emotional reactions to the idea of more people coming? Why was my fundamental response one of sympathy, while his appeared to be one of antipathy?"
She followed Tancredo to Iowa to observe his 2008 campaign for the presidency on the Republican ticket. He was successful in pulling the issue of illegal immigration into the campaign. At one point during one of the debates he observed with some justification that, "All I've heard is people trying to out-Tancredo Tancredo!"
Marisela and Yadira (who lack legal status) cannot:
Qualify for in-state tuition in their home state of Colorado
Obtain a Pell grant or any federal subsidy
Qualify for most private scholarships
Figure out how to pay for college (even community college)
Open a bank account, take out a credit card, write a check
Fly on an airplane
Take a bus across state lines
Get a parking permit at their high school
Get into venues that require ID (movies, clubs, bars)
Rent a movie from Blockbuster (it’s the small things).
Their friends Clara and Elissa can do all of these things.
Even the girls with legal status were threatened by the possibility of family members being deported because of the lack of legal status. "This was the essence of what it meant to be illegal: One lived with the possibility of salvation or despair close by, all the time. . . . We typically think of politics as something that occurs on a grand scale, but the more I watch politics unfold, the more I wondered why. Did the idea of a country -- an abstract concept, really -- truly matter more than the sum happiness of all the individuals living within its boundaries? No, I thought. People mattered more than governments. In fact, this country was founded on that very idea.