TRAILS OF HOPE AND TERROR by Miguel A. De La Torre

reviewed by Glen Petersontrails

Social ethics professor Miguel de la Torre takes immigration reform to the desert, transforming it from dry policy debate to complex and compelling stories about real people. Along with fellow professors and students from Denver’s Iliff School of Theology, De La Torre walks the Sonoran desert to meet migrants and learn why they immigrate, then translates and tells their stories with passion.

The testimonies found in Trails of Hope and Terror are deeply personal. We meet folks who undertake long journeys to cross international borders at great risk of injury and even death—people whose children need to be fed, whose livelihoods are destroyed by global economic forces beyond their control, whose hometowns are void of opportunities for economic improvement. This book is not designed as a case for one side of an argument; nor is it an intellectual exercise from the ivory tower of academia. It is a call to action, a call for justice and compassion.

The book also includes testimonies of those who provide water and first aid to migrants in near-death situations—aid that comes too late for some. It shares stories about human smugglers, vigilantes trying to enforce their own interpretation of the laws, border patrol agents barely trained for the difficulties of their jobs, ranchers and property owners from both sides of the border, church workers, theologians, students, and the family members of immigrants. While the book raises many questions and offers few answers, one thing is made clear from this cloud of witnesses: A humanitarian crisis is being played out daily along the US/Mexico border.

Trails of Hope and Terror is organized along such topics as borders, economics, myths, families, the politics of fear, varying perspectives, and ethical responses. A poem, prayer, or song accompanies each chapter.

De La Torre seeks corresponding themes in the biblical testimony of migrating people, such as the narratives of Abraham and Lot, in which arrogance, overabundance, and unconcern for the poor and the sojourner incurred God’s wrath. The history of the Hebrew people’s liberation—migrant people who were mistreated as slaves in Egypt—is a constant reminder of God’s concern for those considered foreigners. The story of Joseph and Mary, who fled to protect their firstborn from the murderous hand of an insecure tyrant king, demonstrates God’s empathy for and identification with immigrants.

“In the act of God becoming human,” writes De La Torre, “God redraws the borders between people, making strangers into neighbors and aliens into members of a common family.”

Glen Peterson is a writer, catalyst, and activist living in Southern California where he volunteers for Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

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