Weaving together Efrén C. Olivares' personal story as a Mexican immigrant and Ivy League-educated human rights lawyer with his stories of working on the front lines of hundreds of family separations in South Texas – reframing and rethinking our country’s history of immigrants.
My Boy Will Die of Sorrow braids Efrén C. Olivares' personal memoir as a Mexican immigrant who followed his father to the U.S. when it was the only place he could find work at age 13, and as the key attorney representing the criminalized parents who had been separated from their children by Border Patrol under Zero Tolerance in the summer of 2018. By sharing these gripping family separation stories alongside his own, he hopes to give voice to all immigrants who have been punished and silenced for seeking safety and opportunity. The principles that ostensibly bind America together—mutual respect for the Constitution and its institutions, and reciprocal adherence to principles such as freedom, the rule of law, due process—fall apart at our borders. As those values dissolve at our country’s frontiers, they allow for otherwise impermissible cruelty towards those who are considered outsiders.
Olivares reflects on the immigrant experience, then and now, on what separations do to families, and how the act of separation itself adds another layer to the immigrant identity. He explores how our concern for fellow human beings who live at the margins of our society—at the border, literally and figuratively—is affected by how we view ourselves in relation both to our fellow citizens and to immigrants. He provides context by discussing not only the law and immigration policy in accessible terms but how children were also put in cages when coming through Ellis Island, and how Japanese Americans were treated as criminals, separated from their families and interned during WWII. By examining his personal story and the stories of the families he represents side by side, Olivares meaningfully engages readers with their assumptions about what nationhood means in America and challenges us to question our own empathy and compassion. He paints a portrait of an America that is simultaneously a nation of immigrants but also a nation against immigrants.
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