A Brief Review of
Trails of Hope and Terror:
Testimonies on Immigration.
Miguel De La Torre.
Paperback: Orbis Books, 2009.
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Reviewed by Laretta Benjamin.
“During midsummer, while traveling in the southern part of Arizona, I found myself driving down the road near the town of Arivaca. I was about thirty miles north of the Mexican border when I passed a man on the side of the road. He was waving empty water jugs in his hands and obviously in need of help. I did not stop but kept driving. As I traveled down the road, I could not stop thinking about his situation. All at once the complicated laws at work on the border began to rush in on me. I realized I was not only at the border between Mexico and the United States, but at the border between national security and human insecurity, sovereign rights and human rights, civil law and natural law, and citizenship and discipleship. In the face of his need I knew I couldn’t deliberate long and I had to make a decision. Even as the summons to higher laws began to challenge me, I also began to consider the many good reasons why it would not be a good idea t stop and help. If the Border Patrol pulled me over and found me aiding and abetting this person’s entry into the United State, I would face one to ten years in prison. From the perspective of the gospel, if I ignored this person in need, the consequences could be graver. For one long mile three images went through my mind, each of which shaped my vision of pastoral theology and the immigrant. The first was the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37). The second was the Last Judgment (Matt. 25:31-46). And the third was that of an elderly priest, a good friend and a mentor who spent many years working with immigrants. Once, in a very similar situation, we drove by someone and he said, ‘I never take chances with people like that.’ Surprised by his words, I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He replied, ‘That is Jesus over there, and we need to welcome him.’ These three stories made me turn the car around to go back to help this person. The man I met was winded and weathered, and his voice was weak and weary because he had gone days with food and a day without water. His name was Manuel….” (27-28)
Miguel De La Torre’s Trails of Hope and Terror paints for us a powerful picture of the contrast between the kingdom of God (the upside-down kingdom as it has come to be called by many) and the kingdoms of this world. And, whether he intended it or not, his words create for us a clear picture of the ways we as God’s people have allowed our thinking and attitudes to be shaped by our culture, our nationalism, and our own self-protective hearts rather than the transforming, self-sacrificing spirit of Christ. Mr. De La Torre does an incredible job of helping his readers at least begin to grasp the complexities of the immigration issue, especially those readers whose knowledge and experience are fairly limited. For those readers who might feel they already have a pretty clear understanding of the issue, I’m fairly sure this book would be a challenge to think more deeply. The testimonies he shares of those crushed by our immigration policies are almost beyond belief. The realities of their life experiences and journeys cut like a knife. The author draws us into a world that most of us who were born and raised in this culture of freedom and abundance can’t begin to understand or imagine.
Mr. De La Torre shares within his writing the pertinent immigration statistics and numbers. They are presented throughout the pages of this book; but the way he put names, faces and voices to those numbers is what draws us into their reality and the depth of this issue. According to his statistics, as of March 2008, an estimated 11.9 million undocumented immigrants were living in the United States. Four out of every five of those have come from Latin America, with approximately 7 million from Mexico. The author in this particular writing focuses on the migration from Latin America to the United States – the largest group crossing our man-made borders. He draws a haunting picture of the rugged journey from there to here.
Why would someone choose to leave home, family, and friends, risking their very life, to enter this place? “We risk death not because we want to, or because we are foolhardy. We risk death for the families left behind. Would you not cross a hundred deserts to feed your child? It may be crazy to cross, but we are not crazy, we are desperate. Even though I’m a believer and put my trust in God, I’m still desperate. I come from a family of eight brothers and sisters. All are educated and are professionals. Still, I simply could not provide the basis necessities for my children. I had to cross for their sake.” (18) “According to the best estimates, remittances home amounted to 45 billion in 2006” (9)
In his very first chapter titled “Borders and Their Consequences”, Mr. De La Torre examines and questions many of the policies and practices of our nation that have contributed to the poverty and the disturbing economic realities found in other places – which in turn, has led to the desperation so many experience. The very convicting chapters, “Christian Perspectives” and “Ethical Responses” help us to think through how we as God’s people fit into this overwhelming immigration issue. He examines The New Sanctuary Movement – a call to churches to enter in to the immigration issue; to be a “religious witness and a moral voice” in the midst of it and provide services to those facing deportation, working with families, especially those with children who are citizens, making space for them until their case can be heard. He presents us with what was – during the days of the Civil Rights Movement – called “the lie” – the false belief that some people are worth more than others.” At that time, that lie was manifested in slavery. In our day, “the lie” is manifested in the crisis of working poverty – which is a major piece of the puzzle in the immigration issue. In the chapter “Family Values”, the author discusses the ways families are torn asunder by current immigration legislation and touches on the hypocrisy of so many of us who rally round the “family values” banner but stand by and let brothers and sisters and their families from other places be ripped apart.
“If you, the reader, finish this book, are saddened and shaking your head in empathy for the undocumented, and do nothing, then I have failed. If you move on to another book, comforted by the fact that you now understand the issues, then I have failed. Empathy and consciousness, without action, are meaningless for Christians. Brother James probably said it best (James 2:14-20).” (162)
This book is well-written and I am so grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to read it. Thank you, Mr. De La Torre, for sharing your heart with us. There could not have been a better title for this book – trails of hope and terror. I appreciated the poems, prayers and songs woven throughout the stories. I’m always amazed how words put together in those forms seem so powerful. I pray the author won’t have to feel like he has failed with me – or any others who may pick up this book to read. His discussion of the immigration issue was both disturbing and inspiring. I pray God’s people will respond to the call “to be God’s people” and not be afraid to face the realities and complexities of this issue but consider seriously what it means to love our neighbors – all our neighbors.