Immigration is focus of library's 'Booked for Lunch' talk

By Lillian R. Handleman - ReminderNews
South Windsor - posted Wed., Apr. 20, 2011
Immigration attorney Elizabeth Brettschneider shares her impressions of the book, ‘Into the Beautiful North,’ with the Booked for Lunch audience. Photos by Lillian R. Handleman.
Immigration attorney Elizabeth Brettschneider shares her impressions of the book, ‘Into the Beautiful North,’ with the Booked for Lunch audience. Photos by Lillian R. Handleman.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” The words engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty beckon to the homeless and the tempest-tossed, welcoming immigrants from across the globe to the United States. Yet there seems a stunning disconnect between those words written by Emma Lazarus back in 1883 and the huddled masses south of the border who try but often fail to reach “our sea-washed, sunset gates” 118 years later. Those who try to cross the border illegally into the land of plenty face serious consequences, including the threat of military force and deportation.

Crossing borders without permission was the topic of discussion at a recent “Booked for Lunch” program held at the South Windsor Public Library on April 18, to wind down the month’s World of Words, celebrating Mexico. The featured book for discussion was “Into the Beautiful North,” by Luis Alberto Urrea. The guest speaker was Elisabeth Brettschneider, senior associate at Avirom & Associates, LLP, in New York City, where she specializes in business immigration with a focus on employment-based visas.

The book, “Into the Beautiful North,” features 19-year-old Nayeli in a fictional Mexican village, who, with a few friends, seeks to find her father who has escaped (along with most of the men in the village) to find work in the United States. Once here, Nayeli plans to recruit other immigrants to return to Mexico to save their little village from invading drug bandits. Through soulful imagery and vicious border violence, the author illustrates the resilience of Mexico’s poor, as he fills his characters with both cruelty and kindness. The quest to triumph over evil leads to revelation, and Urrea’s message is ultimately hopeful.

In reviewing the book, Brettschneider said the author tended to lace serious issues with subtle humor, lending an unrealistic view to the very real danger that exists within the Mexican border towns where more than 34,000 people have died as a result of the drug cartels during President Calderon’s war on drugs.

“I worry because when people are processing to come here for their green cards, or even temporary work visas, they have to process through the U.S. Consulate,” said Brettschneider. “One Consulate, in Juárez, is a huge post. I get nervous sending my clients there because that town is so dangerous,” she said. “But they don’t have a choice because they can’t not go to the Consulate.”

Brettschneider said that foreigners can wait decades while processing legal documents in an effort to come to the U.S., because there is a huge back-log.

She said she knew of one family who went to the Juárez consulate for processing after waiting many years, and were robbed of their money, birth certificates and passports.

Therefore, the most surprising thing about the book to Brettschneider was the protagonist trying to recruit Mexicans to return to Mexico, and finding many willing to go back. “That is shocking to me,” she said. “[As an immigration attorney] that is not what I see. To be sent home [to Mexico] would be worse than death.”

Brettschneider said the penalties for illegal entry are stiff. “If you’re here illegally for one year, you trigger a 10-year bar,” she said. “You can’t just flow back and forth over the border. Once you’re home, you’re home.”

According to Brettschneider, the U.S. allows 250,000 employment-based immigrants into the country each year. And while foreign professionals and those with bachelor’s degrees can apply more easily for visas, it is still extremely difficult to come here legally. The way U.S. legislation is set up, there is really no mechanism for unskilled workers to enter the country, she said, with the possible exception of seasonal farm workers who have a cap on their temporary visa. She added that contrary to popular belief, these unskilled workers are not taking jobs away from Americans, since most Americans would not do the tasks Mexicans are willing to do to support their families.

Forty million foreigners now live in the U.S., she said, including temporary workers and U.S. citizens. About 25 percent are unauthorized, and three-fifths are Mexicans in the U.S. for more than a decade. While years of effort to reform U.S. immigration laws have failed, the resources poured into border security are staggering, and the number of border patrol agents has doubled over the years. Deportations have also doubled with the use of surveillance systems and other heightened measurements taken in the U.S.

When asked how she enjoyed the book, South Windsor resident Catherine Gardner said she had mixed feelings. “It wasn’t a happy book,” she said.

Cathy Perrill, the Friends of the Library book sale coordinator, had a different take. Sharing her thoughts about the presentation, Perrill said, “I’m glad to be an American.”

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