Immigration Author

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Terry Greene Sterling, award winning journalist and author of “Illegal: Life and Death in Arizona’s Immigration War Zone”, discusses her book which explores lives of undocumented immigrants living in Arizona.

José Cardenas: There is a new book out that explores what is what it is like as an undocumented immigrant in Arizona. "Illegal: Life and Death in Arizona's Immigration War Zone," is written by award-winning journalist Terry Greene sterling. She spent time with undocumented immigrants living in the Phoenix area and tells their story. With me now is Terry Greene Sterling. Welcome to "Horizonte." It's a pleasure to have you on our show. It's a fascinating book. And while there aren't a lot of pictures there are a number that illustrate certain points in the book. One of them we'd like to start with is of a young man sitting behind bars and we'll get that picture up on the screen, but you mention him. There he is. Early on in the book. And it has a very personal connection for you. And in your own roots in Mexico.

Terry Greene Sterling: Yes, the young man -- first, of all, thank you very much for having me on the show. It's a big honor. The young man's name is Alec and that photograph he had just been deported from the United States to Mexico and I was talking through the fence to him in Spanish and it turned out we both came -- we both had roots in the same town. So I found that fascinating. My grandfather actually developed a copper mine at the turn of the century, the turn of the 20th Century. And the copper mine is a huge copper producer even today but it's most famous. It's most famous in Mexican history for a strike in my Mexican miners joined a strike because they wanted to get the same salary as American miners for the same work. And my grandfather called in Arizona rangers, which he had actually helped found and the strike was squelched but the actual event is famous in Mexican history and my grandfather was either demonized in the history books for starting the Mexican revolution or glorified for being a great developer and bringing jobs to Mexico and creating this large mine.

José Cardenas: Was that background, the family background, I know you talk in your book about your cousins and grandmother. How much of a role did that play in your decision to undertake this particular effort? You've written a lot of other things and won many journalism awards. Why this particular subject at this particular time?

Terry Greene Sterling: This book was -- the publisher, Globe Peacock Press called me up and asked me to write a book and immigration and I've done a lot of writing on immigration because I speak Spanish and my family is in Sonora and our family was a border family and I had done a lot as a Spanish-speaking Anglo reporter. And this came to the attention of the publisher and they asked me to write a book on immigration. When I researched the books that had been written, they were all focused on the border and I wanted to write something about what is happening right now in Phoenix. Which is ground zero immigration debate and I chose to write about the immigrants and the friends and foes in the Phoenix area.

José Cardenas: You lit rather start from the beginning -- you literally start from the beginning. And we have a picture of the border crossings and how difficult that is and the impact on the border. We've got one picture you refer to in your book as a trash shrine to that effort.

Terry Greene Sterling: Right, we all know that the -- the funnel effect and the demographic push and pull of immigration caused a huge amount of illegal immigration through Arizona's deserts and at the time that immigration was in full force -- illegal immigration, immigrants were forced to leave a lot of trash behind, forced to leave their belongings behind. And the trash is really sort of offensive because it degrades the environment and it is bad for animals and it's difficult for the ranchers down there. But on the other hand, the trash is fascinating because it tells a story of the people who were forced to leave it behind. And so many people recognize this and there are little shrines of trash all over the border where people who have collected the trash built little shrines out of it.

José Cardenas: The funnel effect is the tightening of security in California and Texas that focus people to focus on the Tucson sector?

Terry Greene Sterling: That's exactly right. Most of the illegal immigration into the United States comes through the Tucson sector because of increased enforcement in Texas and California. So that's the funnel effect everyone is talking about. Although it's greatly reduced now with the economy.

José Cardenas: Now, you talk about your background and the fact you have roots in Mexico and you speak Spanish. But light-skinned, light hair, blue eyes. Did you have difficulty getting immigrants to talk to you?

Terry Greene Sterling: Not at all. I never have difficulty getting people to talk to me. If they understand I'm interested in their stories, and I'm very interested in character-driven narrative journalism and learning about people and people sense that. And so -- the immigrants, some of the immigrants said we're amazed that a blonde person would want to hear our stories and I said, you have amazing stories. Tell me so I can tell the rest of the world.

José Cardenas: You've covered immigration for some time as a journalist.

Terry Greene Sterling: Right.

José Cardenas: Has the tenor of the discussion, the debate changed over the last 10 years since you've been covering these subjects?

Terry Greene Sterling: Yes, it has. It's gotten absolutely crazy. It's -- it's -- it's difficult to understand how we got to this place. Our laws in Arizona are more punitive, even as immigration has declined, and there are many, many myths about undocumented people that sort of fueled this -- this false debate.

José Cardenas: And what would those myths be?

Terry Greene Sterling: Oh, there's so many. And I would like to say that I think this is the year that journalists in general are busting the myths as fast as they can. They're looking at the immigration debate and saying these numbers don't hold out. One of the key myths is that undocumented people suck up public benefits. But they're not entitled to public benefits except in very, very rare cases. Another one is --

José Cardenas: And you talked specifically about one of them and that's healthcare.

Terry Greene Sterling: Yes, healthcare in Arizona, undocumented immigrants don't have access to healthcare unless they're dying and many times they're stabilized and then deported. Shipped back to Mexico to die. One big -- one big loophole in that law is dialysis and that's because a public interest group sued the state of Arizona to force the state of Arizona to give undocumented immigrants dialysis but that's one off the big loopholes. Also we pay for the taxpayer -- the taxpayers pay for prenatal care of undocumented immigrant women but that's because the child is an American citizen, the baby.

José Cardenas: Let's talk a bit about other myths and then I want to talk about the stories of individuals. One is the line. People say they're not against immigrants but against illegal immigrants and they ought to get in lines like everybody else.

Terry Greene Sterling: Well, the lines can be 30 years, 40 years, and in one case, one special line people have to wait in is you're the son, adult son or adult daughter living in Mexico of a legal permanent resident in the United States, you can wait decades and decades. People say hey, we may not see our relatives so let's come illegally. It's emblematic of the broken system.

José Cardenas: Tell us Lucy's story.

Terry Greene Sterling: Lucy and her husband, Marco, were -- by the way, I give the undoubted immigrants fake names.

José Cardenas: And the picture is Lucy with her daughter.

Terry Greene Sterling: They were arrested in a car wash raid by Sheriff Joe Arpaio's deputy appearance slapped with felonies, she and her husband. But as they were arrested, what's critical here is that their daughter saw them in zip ties being led into the sheriff's van on the news and that was extremely traumatic for her. Lucy, the mother underwent real traumas in the jail and when she was released and her husband was released, they had a lot of mending they had to do. They had gone threw a significant amount of trauma, as had the child. And one of the things they did to heal was engage in Mexican folk dancing, which is what you see.

José Cardenas: Let me ask you about another picture. This is tent city. You visited there.

Terry Greene Sterling: Twice, yes.

José Cardenas: And tell us briefly what your experience was there.

Terry Greene Sterling: I believe that tent city is a publicity ploy. It's visited often by journalists from around the world. They're fascinated by it. I was surprised to learn that there was an air conditioned room -- not air conditioned, but evaporative cooling where inmates could go if they got too hot.

José Cardenas: So publicity?

Terry Greene Sterling: I think it is now. In the early days there were issues that resolved in lawsuits.

José Cardenas: Terry, just a couple of things. You've got a September 27th event coming up.

Terry Greene Sterling: At the Walter Cronkite school of journalism in Downtown Phoenix. Please come.

José Cardenas: And book signing opportunities.

Terry Greene Sterling: Selling the books and discussing the characters and we have videos of the characters.

José Cardenas: And you have a website?

Terry Greene Sterling: Yes, where you can see the videos of the characters and buy the book from Amazon or wherever you want to buy it and read my blogs for "The Daily Beast".

José Cardenas: We're out of time. Thank you for joining us on "Horizonte." Thank you.

Terry Greene Sterling:author;

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