Review: Tell Me How It Ends, by Valeria Luiselli

This is a shortish essay whose full title is Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions. It is drawn from work Luiselli did in 2015/16 with unaccompanied immigrant children who were in deportation and removal proceedings in New York. Luiselli served as a translator, working through a 40-item questionnaire prepared by organizations and lawyers representing and assisting these children in the legal process. The children range from five years old to mid-teenagers, so their ability to answer these questions and help to build a case to fight removal varies quite a bit.

Quite apart from the literary merits of the book, which are considerable, this is an excellent introduction to the process children who arrive unaccompanied at the border go through. They are brought from the Central American nations (unaccompanied children from Mexico can be legally and summarily returned without proceedings), and once they have crossed into the United States they give them themselves up to detention by DHS/ICE. The lucky ones are united with family in the US and go through the legal process with them. The specific children Luiselli works with have been placed with family in the NYC area and have had their cases taken up by organizations who try to find grounds for them to be granted legal resident status.

Our recent conversation around immigration has understandably revolved around the draconian policies and cruelty of the Trump Administration’s immigration efforts, but one of Luiselli’s critical contributions is to remind us that harsh treatment of children and other undocumented immigrants is not unique to Trump. Her entire experience as related here takes place during the Obama administration, and the reader is shown why he was called the Deporter-in-Chief in his second term. And Bush before him, and Clinton, laid the groundwork for these policies. What distinguishes the current administration’s approach is its scale, racism, and barbarity, but the policies themselves are extensions of past practices, not major departures from them. 

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