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Everyone Who Is Gone Is Here by Jonathan Blitzer review – seeking sanctuary

Everyone Who Is Gone Is Here by Jonathan Blitzer review – seeking sanctuary

Keldy had seen several of her brothers murdered, and narrowly escaped assassination herself, before she chose to leave Honduras with her two sons and take the migrant’s path north. This is a journey fraught with danger, but early in 2017 the family crossed the desert into New Mexico, where she flagged down a border patrol vehicle and claimed asylum. Keldy had a watertight case, or so she believed. But after a couple of nights in a cold holding cell, border agents informed her she would be separated from her children and deported. They dragged her away from her sons, who cried and tried to clutch her clothing. They would not be reunited for four years.

Keldy’s treatment at the hands of the Trump administration is one of dozens of stories detailed by Jonathan Blitzer in his vast and timely account of US migration policy, written in the colourful, muscular prose of a New Yorker staff writer. This is one of the pre-eminent political issues of our time, and Blitzer explores it in reportage of the expensive, often courageous, gumshoe kind. This is a world in which neighbourhoods are never poor when they can be “hardscrabble”, and no one, no matter how minor, comes without a large dollop of closely observed characterisation.

The hypocrisy he exposes is breathtaking. He focuses on the so-called Northern Triangle of Central American countries, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, which the US spent much of the postwar period reducing to political rubble, hand-picking generalissimos and juntas to run death squads and torture units, and overseeing brutal civil wars. Mostly, US-backed meddling was done in the name of fighting communism, although in at least one case – in Guatemala, in 1954 – it was in pursuit of plain old profit. That year, the United Fruit Company, a large US corporation that didn’t want to pay tax in Guatemala, put together a “liberation” force, with help from the CIA and the state department, that invaded the country, deposed the elected president and replaced him with their own man, who set about rounding up “communists” and building a police state.

Washington wasn’t the source of all Northern Triangle woes, of course: the region was poor, with low levels of education, and prone to hurricanes and earthquakes. But natural disasters and lawlessness were exacerbated by US-made political crises, and many people had no option but to leave. Increasingly, when the displaced reached Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, they found their powerful neighbour reluctant to let them in. “For more than a century,” Blitzer writes, “the US has devised one policy after another to keep these people out of the country. For more than a century, it has failed.” The result has been a building migrant crisis and a demagogue who found a way to capitalise on that.

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Donald Trump, “the screaming id of American self-interest”, as Blitzer puts it, arrived in office with a cabal of anti-immigrant extremists, led by the Alabama senator Jeff Sessions and his communications director Stephen Miller. Miller would author some of the Trump administration’s most radical immigration policies, from the travel ban for people from Muslim-majority countries to the family separation policy in which Keldy and her children were caught. The Trump-Sessions-Miller caucus supported nakedly racist policies with propaganda more reminiscent of the 1930s than the 2010s, portraying migrants as murderers, rapists and Untermensch. Miller thought displaced people were “vectors of disease”, and scoured reports from the border for cases of imported illness to support his argument. Trump meanwhile alighted on the obscure criminal gang MS-13, which he held up as an emblem of the US’s Latino “problem”. Neither of these points stands up to scrutiny. MS-13 was not a product of El Salvador but of LA, and would only reach Central America when the US deported its members that way. Disease travelled in the same direction, Guatemala’s Covid pandemic arriving on deportation flights from the US – the “Wuhan of the Americas”, as Guatemala’s health minister called it. The deportees had mostly caught the virus in the unsanitary conditions in US detention centres.

Keldy’s children were two of more than 5,000 kids separated from their parents at the border as a result of Trump policies, which Joe Biden denounced on the campaign trail as “criminal”, “abhorrent”, and violating “every notion of who we are as a nation”. Once in office, Biden created a taskforce charged with reuniting the separated families, but his administration withdrew from talks on compensating the victims, apparently deciding they were a political liability.

The overall picture that emerges is one of cynicism, with occasional good intentions crushed by political pressure. The US is not alone in failing to resolve the dilemma of migration, which in our unequal world seems near intractable, and may worsen, fuelling the further rise of the far right. Everyone Who Is Gone Is Here doesn’t offer easy solutions, but it is invaluable, as we try to plot a humane way through the mess, to have a clearer understanding of how we got here.

Source: theguardian.com