New Book About Immigration:Travel of a Desperate Sort


Book Cover Death of Josseline

Destination: The U.S. Mexico Borderland

Book: The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona-Mexico Borderlands (2010) by Margaret Regan

The border with Mexico along the southern edge of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas divides more than two countries.  It divides a poor country from a wealthy country. And in both countries, it divides politicians and voters, workers and social activists in their opinions about immigration.

The words you use quickly classify you into one camp or another—are the border crossers flooding from south to north “undocumented aliens,” “illegals,” or “immigrants?” Should we fence them out or help them create jobs? Should travelers be wary? As Phil Caputo said in a discussion at the Tucson Festival of Books, sometimes it is all right to be ambivalent.

A panel that was moderated by Tom Miller, included authors Caputo , David Danelo and Margaret Regan discussing their respective books about what Tom Miller calls “the third country.” I am fortunate to call Margaret Regan, author of The Death of Josseline, a friend, and to have her agree to an interview for A Traveler’s Library. You can see the entire panel on from C-SPAN.

A Traveler’s Library: Can you explain how you developed an interest in the immigration coming across the border?

Margaret Regan: Back in the year 2000…Arizona became THE crossing point for migrants from Mexico and Central America. In the mid-90s the federal government had decided to crack down on illegal immigration through the major urban crossings, thinking that if they stopped immigration in the cities, the landscape in between – in Arizona – was so forbidding that no one would cross here.[Instead] migration shifted, and by the late 90s and early 2000s the Border Patrol was arresting hundreds of thousands of migrants in the Tucson Sector.

I went to Douglas, Arizona, [for the Tucson Weekly]and found what looked like a war zone: Border Patrol vehicles bouncing up and down the roads, helicopters clattering overhead, migrants being arrested by the hundreds. Over several days, I did a ride-along with the Border Patrol, interviewed the mayor, talked with any migrants and …interviewed a Guatemalan man  whose 23-year-old cousin had died in his arms that afternoon in the desert.

ATL: Why should people be concerned about the fate of people who are trying to commit an illegal act  when there are so many law abiding citizens in our country that need our help?

M.R.: At a minimum, the deaths are a public health issue. The title story of my book recounts the death of Josseline, a 14-year-old girl from El Salvador who was trying to get to her mother in Los Angeles. Josseline sickened on a trail south of Arivaca, Arizona, and was left to die alone by her coyote, or smuggler.

In southern Arizona, we have an average of 200 migrant deaths every year in the deserts and mountains outside our cities. [Every year the number increases.] Over the last 10 years, 1,912 bodies have been found in the southern part of the state, and all parties to the debate agree that many more are never found.

These are deaths on American soil, of people whose labor has been welcomed by the American economy. Americans have passionately different views of illegal immigration, but surely we can agree that this annual harvest of bodies is unacceptable.

ATL: The economic situation in the U.S. has changed so much that it is less attractive for those seeking work.  Did you feel that change at all while you were researching the book?

M.R.: Yes. Douglas is a much sleepier town today than it was in 2000. Border Patrol arrest figures document the change: Tucson Sector arrests were running at about 600,000 in 2000, and by 2009, that number was 250,000. Fewer jobs mean fewer people crossing. But still some come because no matter how hard times are here, things are worse for impoverished people in Mexico and Central America. And families are still trying to re-unite.

ATL:Is the border area no longer safe for hikers, travelers and tourists from the U.S. and other countries?

Certainly drug smuggling is a concern, but the Border Patrol tells me their statistics show that 90 percent of those they pick up are … families looking to re-unite or people coming to look for work.

The drug violence so far has been confined primarily to northern Mexico. However, the Buenos Aires Wilderness Refuge, a beautiful birders’ paradise southwest of Tucson, has closed the section of the refuge adjoining the border, for safety reasons. The Tucson Audubon Society likewise ranks certain trails close to the border as too dangerous to travel. ..[but most of our] beautiful Arizona landscape and tourist attractions are open and ready to accommodate visitors.

ATL: Was there ever a time when you felt you were in danger as you reported this book?

M.R.: Ironically, I had the most trouble when I went out with the Border Patrol’s elite BORSTAR (search, trauma and rescue) unit on a very hot summer day. The team was hiking into the desert to rescue a Honduran woman they’d learned had suffered a potentially life-threatening injury, but they got lost and we wandered in the desert a long time. We found the woman eventually, but we were out so long that we ran out of water. It was a lesson in how treacherous the desert is, even for highly trained, well-equipped border agents.


Margaret Regan
Margaret Regan

Formerly a staff writer for the Tucson Weekly, Margaret Regan now freelances and regularly wins awards for her writing. She reviews arts  and has covered border issues and immigration for ten years.

Margaret, thank you so much for visiting A Traveler’s Library.

Readers, you may also want to read:

And please join the conversation about illegal border crossing in the Southwest. What should we do about the immigrants? About the deaths? Does this story make you afraid to travel to the southern border of the U.S.?

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

15 thoughts on “New Book About Immigration:Travel of a Desperate Sort

  1. I wish there were a way to have more fluid, open borders between America and Mexico, and America and the rest of the world. I think we should try to be more like the European Union and work together instead of antagonizing each other. This sounds like an interesting book but I have to be honest and say it’s not one I’m likely to read (often I read this blog and go straight to the library to get the books you recommend Vera!).
    .-= Jennifer Margulis hopes you will read blog ..Nominated for a Maggie Award =-.

  2. Thanks for the enlightening and interesting interview, Vera. People are so desperate to better their lives and it’s so sad that the consequences are oftentimes tragic.

  3. Thanks for this interesting, timely review. I have to say that while I have no ready solutions for the US’s immigration problem, I’m with Brette that many of these immigrants enrich our country. There just has to be a better way to solve our border issues.
    .-= Kristen hopes you will read blog ..Green Eggs & Ham Sandwiches =-.

  4. This is fascinating. I like getting a glimpse of the world that I do not know. Thanks for point this book out. I’m going to put it on my must-read list.

  5. Most of the immigrants who come to Texas legally and illegally do jobs most Americans don’t want — and they and their families become the kind of energetic, enterprising citizens who enrich our country. A wall along the border isn’t stopping anyone.
    .-= Ruth Pennebaker hopes you will read blog ..New York Gets Even More Exciting =-.

  6. Fascinating interview. I look forward to reading this book. Thanks!

    I have a rather unique take on the immigrants along our Southern borders.

    To get my Swedish history professor husband into the country legally, I had to practically stand on my head and sing “When I’m 64” backwards. Therefore, I take offense that people, who enter this country without requesting permission first, are allowed to remain. Americans are out of work. I do not think illegal immigrants should be hired for jobs Americans could be encouraged to take if they were needy enough, and I do not think illegal immigrants’ children should receive education paid by the taxes of hard-working citizens of the USA.

    Immigration laws need a complete overhaul, and the INS folks need a new mentality: they acted as if my husband were the enemy.

    Drug trafficking across the border is a whole other kettle of fish. Have you seen Maria, Full of Grace?
    .-= Alexandra hopes you will read blog ..On Growing Older … =-.

  7. This must be one of the most contentious borders in the world (maybe the Korean border and India-Pakistan and Israel-Palestine make the notable list as well) and a difficult problem to “solve”. If the border is harshly guarded then I suspect less people try to cross but those who do, do it in a more life-threatening way leading to deaths and the kind of incidents that the author describes above. If they are not guarded, then I suspect people will move in in incredible numbers brining pressure on the bordering states and cities. It is on my reading list.
    .-= Mark H hopes you will read blog ..The Haunting Cliffs of Moher (Ireland) =-.

    1. One of the panelist said that this is not a “problem” because it does not have a solution. Instead he preferred to call it a predicament. But as I travel in Europe, I notice that all countries are having some of the same border issues. I have heard people say that they hardly realize they are in Paris any more because there are so many middle-Easterners. We had a Turkish cab driver in Sweden ten years ago, and learned there is a large migration there from Turkey. Maids in hotels in Europe tend to be from the former Soviet Union countries instead of Mexican as here…and the beat goes on. Borders are much more full of holes than they once were.

  8. Incredible!!! I’ve heard many such stories- but to have someone who documented them- this is amazing.

  9. Interesting interview, and thanks for the review of Book: The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona-Mexico Borderlands. This is an ongoing issue. I read Dan White’s “The Cactus Eaters” last year (hiking the pacific crest trail from border to border) and his description from a hiker’s viewpoint of what the southern border looks like.

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