Showdown in the Sonoran Desert: Religion, Law, and the Immigration Controversy

Showdown in the Sonoran Desert: Religion, Law, and the Immigration Controversy

Showdown in the Sonoran Desert: Religion, Law, and the Immigration Controversy

Showdown in the Sonoran Desert: Religion, Law, and the Immigration Controversy


The U.S. immigration debate has raised some of the most difficult questions our nation has ever faced: How can we preserve the integrity of sovereign borders while also respecting the dignity of human beings? How should a border--that imaginary line in the sand--be humanely and effectively maintained? And how should we regard "the stranger" in our midst?

To understand the experience of those directly impacted by the immigration crisis, Ananda Rose traveled to the Sonoran desert, a border region where the remains of some 2,000 migrants have been recovered over the past decade. There she interviewed Minutemen, Border Patrol agents, Catholic nuns, humanitarian aid workers, left-wing protestors, ranchers, and many other ordinary citizens of southern Arizona. She discovers two starkly opposed ideological perspectives: that of religious activists who embrace a biblically inspired hospitality that stresses love of strangers and a "borderless" compassion; and that of law enforcement, which insists on safety, security, and strict respect for international borders. But by embracing the stories these people tell about their lived experience--whether the rancher angered over seeing his property damaged by trespassing migrants, or the migrant who has left three children behind in a violent shantytown in the hope of providing them a better life through southbound remittances, or the Border Patrol agent stuck between his loyalty to law and the pain of finding a baby girl dead in the desert--Rose takes readers beyond predictable and entrenched partisan views to offer a more nuanced portrait of the conflict on the border. Ultimately, she argues, the immigration question turns on how we choose to view "the other"--with compassion or with fear.

In writing that is intimate, insightful, even-handed, and often gut-wrenchingly vivid,Showdown in the Sonoran Desertoffers a fresh new way to frame one of the most important debates of our time.


For all of recorded history, people have migrated in search of a better life. They have walked jaw-dropping distances, across ice and desert, mountains and valleys, jungles and plains, hoping to find easier ways to survive in the world. They have gotten into boats and set sail for shores, known and unknown, with little hope of reaching them alive. In part, it is what makes us human: our tireless movement, from here to there and anywhere. “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you,” God commands Abraham. And he did so, freely.

But is it a human right to migrate according to need? Or is it a human right for citizens of a sovereign nation to be able to monitor and control their borders? How might a reasonable balance be struck between true compassion and suitable law that guarantees the safety and dignity of all people?

These are questions that are being raised with urgency along the nearly 2,000-mile stretch of border between Mexico and the United States. People from all sides—human rights groups, religious coalitions, law enforcement agencies, legal representatives, ranchers, civil patrol groups, individuals of all ages and political backgrounds—are passionately engaged in the debate.

Grabbing particular attention over the last few years has been the rising numbers of migrant deaths in the Sonoran desert. In the last decade, the remains of approximately 2,000 migrant bodies have been found in this vast desert region, and it is estimated that many hundreds more have perished but have not been found. It is a landscape of striking beauty, with its array of . . .

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