Immigrants, refugees and the displaced

1. Border brokers: children of Mexican immigrants navigating U.S. society, laws, and politics 
Getrich, Christina M. Arizona, 2019

This fine study of the effects of immigration policies and practices on the children of illegal Mexican immigrants could not be more timely. Millions of children in the US live in households where one or both parents lack legal documents for living and working in the US. Children who grow up in such households, though they may themselves be citizens, face special challenges—fear of deportation of a parent, family mobility problems in service of avoiding arrest, difficulties in accessing health care and social services, and reduced parental involvement with school systems, to mention just a few of the issues. Over the course of a decade sociocultural and medical anthropologist Christina Getrich (Univ. of Maryland, College Park) interviewed and followed a group of teenagers, turned young adults, in San Diego who experienced such challenges and responded and adapted to them, often in constructive and empowering ways.
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2. Migrant longing: letter writing across the U.S.-Mexico borderlands
Chávez-García, Miroslava. North Carolina, 2018

In clear, concise prose, both interpretive and narrative, Chávez-García (history, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara) interweaves Mexican and global sociopolitical history with the history of her family and other migrants to reveal a humanized macrohistory. In her thorough research, she employs archival records, oral histories, other primary source materials, and secondary sources but relies chiefly on more than 300 letters, which help structure her study. The period covered (20th century with focus on the 1960s–70s) was a crucial transitional period in Mexican and North American politics: economic forces controlled by Mexico’s urban upper- and middle-classes squeezed the agrarian populace, and US immigration policies stiffened. As letters do, these provide the enmeshed personal perspectives of people often unaccounted for in historical narratives—in this case, Mexican working families and individuals striving for stability. Chávez-García uses the concepts of allá (there) and aqui (here) to focus her analyses on immigrants, emigrants, and transnationals and their identities based on work, domesticity, gender, intimacy, place, family relationships, and social networks.
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3. Embattled freedom: journeys through the Civil War’s slave refugee camps 
Taylor, Amy Murrell. North Carolina, 2018

Massively researched, deftly blending narrative and exposition, finely crafted, opening new territory and accessible to a wide audience, this book is award-worthy. It takes experiences of an escaped slave couple at Fort Monroe, Virginia—a runaway mother and family from eastern Arkansas and a black Kentucky preacher, all in refugee camps—as illustrative. It notably discusses women’s, children’s, and entire families’ affairs (including marital matters) in all of its eight thematic chapters. Chapters consider escapees’ needs for food, shelter, paying work, making new lives and creating communities, and a distinctive free black Christianity. They treat survival of shifting political and military conditions, frequent relocations, support work, combat and short rations, and wages as appropriate. Yankee and Southern troops looted, burned structures, raped, abused, and sometimes lynched or repatriated escapees. Northern ladies who raised huge amounts of clothing sneered when former slaves traded rags for finery. Doing so was “uppity” in an age when clothing denoted status.
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4. Placeless people: writings, rights, and refugees 
Stonebridge, Lyndsey. Oxford, 2018

Treating modernist writers such as Franz Kafka, George Orwell, Simone Weil, Samuel Beckett, W. H. Auden, Dorothy Thomson, and Palestinian poet Yousif Qasmiyeh, Stonebridge (humanities and human rights, Univ. of Birmingham, UK) offers a nuanced and complex interdisciplinary treatment of the problems of citizenship, statelessness, and mass displacement—which she calls “the twentieth-century’s continuing atrocity.” Working from positions articulated by Hannah Arendt, Stonebridge observes that to be stateless is to be “rightless”; that is, human rights are guaranteed by sovereign nations, so to be outside the state is to be without enforceable rights. Modernist literature often validated exile and a withdrawal from the world into aesthetics, but, as Stonebridge writes in the introduction, “the exiled writer as a melancholy observer of modern life … had, in reality, long gone.” The writers Stonebridge treats all grapple with the philosophical and practical consequences of statelessness, particularly as they became apparent in WW II and after. Informed by religious, moral, and legal philosophy, the author’s examinations of the situations of Europe’s Jews and of the Palestinians point to the way governments have failed in the construction of international policy.
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5. Handcuffs and chain link: criminalizing the undocumented in America
O’Brien, Benjamin Gonzalez. Virginia, 2018

O’Brien (San Diego State Univ.) traces the history of “crimmigration,” starting with a detailed analysis of the debate surrounding the 1920s passage of the Johnson-Reed Act and Senate Bill 5094. O’Brien identifies three threat frames characterizing the portrayal of immigrants at the time: economic, cultural, and criminal. He discusses the congressional debate on the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and the subsequent Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, observing that congressional rhetoric was often more balanced, acknowledging the economic contributions of migrants and the push/pull factors of undocumented migration from Mexico. O’Brien then presents data on public opinion and perceptions of immigrant criminality, persuasively arguing that the threat frames used to condemn undocumented Mexican migration today echo those used in the early 20th century. This book contributes to understanding of the political history and the evolution of public policy responses to immigration.
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