Longtime Tucson Weekly contributor Margaret Regan is set to publish "Detained and Deported: Stories of Immigrant Families Under Fire," her second book about immigration's impact on Arizona. Read an excerpt from the book here.
In a starred review, Publishers Weekly said that Regan captures "intimate and heartbreaking" stories in "an authentic look at people caught between borders"; Kirkus Reviews said that "Regan's books bring into focus the fates of undocumented people fighting against the odds to make it into America and then, if they get here, struggling, and often failing, to build a life"; and Booklist noted that "with other horrifying case studies, Regan provides discomfiting statistics to document the rise of the detention-industrial complex." Regan will be reading from the book at 7 p.m. Friday, March 6, at Antigone Books, 411 N. Fourth Ave. She'll also be making numerous appearances during the upcoming Tucson Festival of Books on March 14-15 and will be discussing the book at Etherton Gallery at 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 14.
What's the new book all about?
My first book, "The Death of Josseline," was about the difficult and dangerous journey and everything that it does for the residents of the border, and all the militarization. My new book is about people who came here successfully in that big migration and have lived here for a long time. But they're not documented. And what happens to them when they're driving along in Phoenix or Tucson and they have a taillight missing and the cops stop them and they're detained. This book is about people who are really embedded in our community and many of them have kids who are U.S. citizens. Some of them were brought here as children themselves. So suddenly they're in this situation where they're just ripped out of that life and end up in the whole rigmarole of being sent to detention centers. A lot of them are in detention centers because they're not allowed to release you on bail so they can stay in a detention center for years. In the course of writing this book, I meet one man who was about to celebrate his seventh Christmas in detention. He was from Brazil originally and he kept filing appeals—which is his right to do—and they kept them in detention all this time.
A lot of these detention centers are private prisons.
The biggest detention center in Arizona is the Eloy Detention Center halfway between Tucson and Phoenix. And by the way, these detention centers are usually in rural communities where they are not very visible to the rest of us. They're kind of hidden away—after you get off the interstate, you have to drive in about eight miles and this is a massive installation with many different prisons run by the Corrections Corporation of America.
You've been inside the facility. What was it like for the people who are detained there?
Well, it was exactly like a horrible prison. It's not supposed to be. But it is. People are confined in cells, they're strictly watched all day long, they're marched around. I talk to a lot of people who have been in there. They said the food was just terrible, they don't get proper medical care, there are a lot of complaints that the guards are always screaming at people. Spanish-speaking people believe many of the guards are racist. Most of the guards don't speak Spanish and they get angry when people don't understand their orders and they threaten people with solitary confinement. They threaten to throw them in the hole, as they call it, if they don't obey.
How hard is it for families to see their relatives?
I went to a family visitation and it was a pretty horrifying experience. It was a Sunday afternoon. The lobby of the prison was crowded with families and small children brought there to visit their parents. The guards were yelling at the kids. There are long waits. They have this whole protocol were they have to go and get the person you come to visit and it takes like an hour, and in the meantime, these families are in there and the thing that was apparent to me, having raised small children, was that parents aren't allowed to bring anything in there for the children. They're not allowed to bring in toys or coloring books or food or anything. It's like a prison—you go in there and surrender all your stuff. So I saw these families crowded into this room, and I'm not accustomed to going to prison, but it sure felt like a prison. One little kid was swinging on some gate that they had to let people into the passageway and some guard really yelled at him.
A lot of writing about immigration is caught up in the politics of bills going back and forth in Washington or dealing with arcane policy matters or this latest battle over the shutdown of Homeland Security, but you really managed to find the people who are affected by these laws. What draws you into writing these stories?
It goes back to my father. My father was the grandson of Irish immigrants who came to Philadelphia in the 1870s and they had an extremely hard time. The Irish immigration was probably the first big immigrant group that came to the United States that was seen as very foreign, and it's funny now to think about the Irish as being very foreign, but the fact was that they were Catholic, a lot of them were Irish speakers because it was the poorest people who came from the countryside and they seemed very foreign and very dirty and there was real anger about them being here. And so from the time I was a small child, I heard the stories about my Irish ancestors. My grandfather was working at the age of 11 and basically became a street kid in Philadelphia. He managed to fight his way up and my father was very conscious of the history and I was always very conscious of that history. Every wave of immigration to the United States, we deal with it badly.