Amanda Rose's Showdown in the Sonoran Desert begins and ends in inhospitable land between Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora where at least 2,000 migrants have died trying to make it to the promised land. The "showdown" is the face-off between two apparently irreconcilable visions, one of migrants as human beings of worth and dignity, the other of fearsome strangers who have broken the law.
Many books on unauthorized Latino immigration to the United States are either dry academic treatises on one hand, or impassioned polemics on the other. Rose's short book is neither; it is both beautifully written and even-handed. She is a published poet and journalist, and it shows. At times her sympathy for the migrants does show through, but she presents both sides fairly. Since she recently received her doctorate, she could be forgiven the usual academic [End Page 98] "objectivity," but we see none of that distancing in her book. The people whose stories she tells are people, not research "subjects." Their stories illustrate and illuminate the intertwined economic, social, and theological threads of a very complex issue.
She devotes the first half of her book, "God in the Desert: Migrant Deaths and the Rise of Border Ministries," to an examination of the point of view of faith-based activists who see the issue as moral, their guiding principle the biblical tradition of unconditional hospitality. She tells stories of organizations such as Humane Borders and No More Deaths who blame the deaths in the desert on U.S. immigration policy and are working both to prevent more deaths and to bring about immigration reform. She summarizes the overall viewpoint of Part One as follows: "This is the general stance of the Catholic Church and many Protestant coalitions along the border: not only is it not illegal (italics in original) to migrate according to need; it is a 'God-given' right" (43).
Part Two, "Law in the Desert: Security, Sovereignty, and the Natural Rights of the State" presents the other vision. Yes, most of those who come illegally are hard-working people looking to improve their lot in life, but some are terrorists, drug smugglers, rapists and murderers. Yes, the deaths are tragedies, but a nation has the right to control its borders. She tells the stories of ranchers who live in fear, Border Patrol officers who treat the migrants with compassion, and Minutemen who see themselves as protecting honest citizens from migrants whose first act in their new country is to break its laws.
No matter which side of this issue you are on, and most of us are on one side or the other, the author's even-handedness and skillful writing ensures that you will learn something about the other side of the issue. What more could you ask? [End Page 99]
University of Houston-Downtown