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Against Perils and Odds: A Boy's Trek to the U.S.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sonia Nazario talks about her new book, Enrique's Journey, which traces the path of a young boy from Honduras to the U.S. as he reunites with his mother. Nazario found that 48,000 children, some as young as 7, make the journey alone each year.

44:47

Other segments from the episode on February 20, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 20, 2006: Interview with Sonia Nazario; Review of the classic film "Young Mr. Lincoln."

Transcript

DATE February 20, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Los Angeles Times reporter Sonia Nazario talks about
her new book, "Enrique's Journey," which traces the journey of
an Honduran boy who enters US illegally in search of his mother
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Sonia Nazario is a reporter at the Los Angeles Times. A conversation with her
housekeeper one day set Nazario off on an investigation that would end up with
her writing a Pulitzer Prize-winning series and her new book "Enrique's
Journey." Nazario learned that her housekeeper, Carmen, had left her four
small children back in Guatemala to come to the US and find a job so that she
could send money home to support the children. She hadn't seen her children
in 12 years.

Carmen's situation turns out to be pretty common. For instance, in Los
Angeles, an estimated four out of five live-in nannies and one in four
housecleaners are mothers who still have at least one child in their home
country. And that has led to a new phenomenon. Each year about 48,000
children from Central America go in search of their mothers in the US. It's a
perilous journey that often ends with border guards catching the kids and
sending them back home. In the new book "Enrique's Journey," Sonia Nazario
traces the journey of one Honduran boy who entered the US illegally and now
lives and works near his mother in North Carolina. The book has expanded from
Nazario's Pulitzer Prize-winning series.

For a lot of second and third generation Americans, they remember that it was
like their grandfather who came first and then sent for the rest of the
family.

Is this a new trend that it's the mother who's coming first?

Ms. SONIA NAZARIO: Yes. Previously we saw, particularly, in the '60s and
'70s with men from Mexico coming to the United States, leaving behind their
wives and children but, increasingly, as we're seeing family disintegration in
Latin America, a lot of women are left without husbands, without partners, for
a variety of reasons. And, so, they are faced with this incredible choice.

You know, you talk to these women that talk about not being able to feed their
kids more than once a day, about having to fill a glass with water and mix in
a dob of tortilla dough to quiet their children when they are crying for food.
And, so, a lot of these women come north and they think that the separation
will be brief. They think it will be one or two years but, inevitably, it
stretches into five or 10 years.

And so a lot of their children despair, and they want to know `Does my mother
still love me?' And they want to be with her, and many of them say, `I'm going
to go find her.' And there is about 48,000 children who enter the United
States alone, without a parent, every year. And some of those are coming to
work, but the great majority, particularly of the Central American children,
are coming because they want to find their parent. And most often than not,
in three and four cases, it is a single mother who came north to the United
States and left them behind.

GROSS: Well, you focus on the story of a boy named Enrique who came to the
United States illegally to be with his mother. And he wondered, `Does my
mother still love me?' You know, `Why did she leave me?' So he came here to
find her and to be with her. How did you decide on Enrique as the person
whose story you wanted to tell as an example of this larger phenomenon?

Ms. NAZARIO: Well, I knew that the majority of children who are detained by
Homeland Security, then the INS, where the average age was 15 and typically a
boy, and Enrique, in many ways, was typical of what these children go through.
His mother Lourdes left him when he was five years old. And he was just
bewildered by her absence and then turns increasingly lonely and troubled, and
he decides to go out and find her. And he travels the only way that he can
with very, very little money, which is clinging to the sides and tops of these
freight trains through Mexico. And for him, it's really an epic journey.
There are children as young as seven years old who make this journey alone
through Mexico. There are hundreds of people clinging to each of these
trains. And he and the other kids have to run this gauntlet, and he--where
they're attacked by gangsters and bandits and corrupt cops. And sometimes the
train tears them to bits as well. And so his experiences had been typical.
And I found him in northern Mexico where he had made part of his journey,
hoped that he might complete the journey and then spent some time with him and
then retraced the other parts of his journey that he had already made.

GROSS: When he decided to come to America to find his mother, what was his
mother's life like?

Ms. NAZARIO: Enrique's mother had lived in Long Beach in California. Then
she had moved to North Carolina. Basically, she--a year after she arrives in
the United States, she unintentionally gets pregnant, and she's really
struggling during much of the 11 years that they are separated. She works at
a variety of jobs. She cleans houses. Oftentimes, she is working two or
three jobs. At one period, she's only sleeping four hours a night to be able
to hold down all those jobs. And it's very difficult because she has to
support herself and her child in the United States. But she is also working
to send money back home to Enrique and his sister. And so it's a daily
struggle. And she's also trying to save money to try to become legal in the
United States, to try to work with various attorneys or others who promise
that they can get her papers. And so she's--at times, she lives in a single
garage which the roof leaks, and she's sleeping on a mattress with her child.
She has a very, very hard time. And she just prays and prays that some day
she can make more money so that she can either bring her children north or she
can make enough so that she can go back to Honduras and have some prospect of
a better life for them.

GROSS: Is her life in America any better than it was in Honduras? Or is her
daughter's life--you know, is her child's life any better than the child she
left behind?

Ms. NAZARIO: It's unquestionable that, in an economic sense, her life is
better in the United States. That's why so many people come to the United
States. She--her daughter here is able to go to school. She is--continues in
her schooling. She's able to send enough money so her daughter in Honduras is
able even to attend university and study to become an accountant. So, in that
sense, her life is better. But it's very difficult being separated from her
child. At times, her two children in Honduras. At times, she takes care of
other people's children. She takes care of a three-year-old girl of a couple
in Beverly Hills. And so, she's feeding and caring for other children when
she can't do that for her own. And that just is very, very difficult for any
mother.

GROSS: Lourdes left her son Enrique and her daughter in Honduras with her
mother, Enrique's grandmother. When Enrique decided to, like, go north to
find his mother, did he tell his grandmother that he was leaving?

Ms. NAZARIO: He did tell his grandmother, but people didn't believe that he
was really going to go. And also, without his mother at his side, he had
moved from relative to relative. And he had become a very troubled teenage
boy. And so, there was a part of them that hoped that, you know, he would
move on to somewhere else, quite frankly. He was not, you know, the ideal
child when he sets off to the United States. He's idealized his mother, and
he thinks that being by her side, his troubles will somehow be fixed being
with her. So, they know that he may be leaving. They don't really believe
he's going to leave, but when he does leave, they're very worried about him.
And for good reason.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is journalist Sonia Nazario.
She's a projects reporter for the Los Angeles Times. And her new book
"Enrique's Journey" is expanded from a Pulitzer Prize-winning series that she
wrote about children who illegally come to the United States in search of
their mothers. And her new book is called "Enrique's Journey," the story of a
boy's dangerous odyssey to reunite with his mother.

How old was Enrique when he left Honduras to come to the United States and
find his mother?

Ms. NAZARIO: Enrique was, initially, 16 years old when he makes his first
attempt. Ultimately, he makes seven attempts to reach her. And he travels
122 days. And he travels 12,000 miles in his quest to try to reach his mom.

GROSS: Would you give us an overview of the route that he took?

Ms. NAZARIO: He starts in Honduras, and he works his way through Honduras
and Guatemala on buses. Then he crosses illegally into Mexico. And in
southern Mexico, in the most southern most state, Chiapas, he rides, he boards
the trains, the freight trains there. And he rides up the length of two
thirds of Mexico clinging to the tops and sides of these freight trains, which
is what many immigrants do trying to get through Mexico.

At one point, he gets off the freight trains and he hitch-hikes from a spot
about two thirds up Mexico to the US-Mexico border.

GROSS: Now, these freight trains that Enrique rode that a lot of the young
people who tried to illegally enter the United States ride from Central
America, they're very dangerous for a lot of reasons. And you know these
reasons very well, in part, because you rode those trains as part of your
research.

So, let's start with just getting on the train. I mean, you have to, you
probably didn't have to do this, but the children and teenagers who are
illegally riding these trains, they have to jump on them as the trains are
moving. Why do they have to do that?

Ms. NAZARIO: Well, the immigration authorities control the trains. And so
they're controlling the train stations. And so the immigrants know that they
have to get on and off the trains when they are moving. And that's only,
really one of the many, many dangers that these children face trying to get
through Mexico on these trains. It's a journey. It's a gauntlet that would
be amazing for an adult to get through, but it's much more amazing that these
children are able to do it. Really, they're hunted like animals all along the
way. Most of them are robbed, beaten. The girls are raped along the way.
Many of them this happens to multiple times as they are going through Mexico.
Some of these kids are killed in the journey. And they're really surviving on
really little more than their wits.

They have four big foes as they head north. They have these gangsters that
control the tops of the freight trains. And they have bandits all up and down
the sides of the train who are out to rob and rape and kill them. There are
these corrupt cops who stop the train and try to grab them and fleece them and
deport them back to Mexico's southern most border. And then there's the train
itself, getting on and off these trains as they are moving. And the migrants
call the train `el tren de la muerte,' the train of death, because so many of
them slip as they are getting on. It's very difficult to get on a moving
train. The sides of the train are slanted. The road bed is slanted at 45
degrees. The ladder comes up to their waist. The train is moving. There are
all sorts of migrants crowding around the ladders, jostling to get on the
trains. And, oftentimes, they slip and fall. And they are torn up by the
wheels. They're mutilated. They loose arms. They loose legs along the way.
So, there are all these different things that can harm them as they are trying
to work their way north.

GROSS: If you are just joining us, my guest is Sonia Nazario. Her new book
is called "Enrique's Journey." Let's take a short break here and then we'll
talk some more.

(Announcements)

GROSS: Sonia Nazario and she is project reporter for the Los Angeles Times.
Her new book "Enrique's Journey" is based on a series of Pulitzer
Prize-winning articles that she wrote tracing one immigrant boy's journey from
Honduras to the United States to try to meet up with his mother who had left
there years earlier so that she could send money back home to the children
that she left behind. And this book is called "Enrique's Journey," the story
of a boy's dangerous odyssey to reunite with his mother. And his story is
typical of thousands of young people's stories who illegally enter the United
States to find their mothers.

You mention that gangsters control the tops of the trains, and the tops of the
trains are one of the main places that the illegal immigrants ride. So, what
does it mean that they control the tops of the trains? What do they want
from--do they want money in exchange for a place there?

Ms. NAZARIO: Well, a lot of these gangsters have been deported by the United
States back to their home countries in Central America where the cops are not
very kind to them. So, they've staked out this turf in southern Mexico in
Chiapas. And the train is like any gangsters turf. They divide it up. They
divide up routes. And there is usually 10 or 20 of them on any given train.
And they go from car to car. They are armed with machetes and knives and bats
and sometimes guns. And they'll approach one car. Everyone on the car gets
stripped down. They are basically told `Give us what you have,' sometimes
their clothing and their shoes, as well, if they have any coins on them. And,
if you resist in any way, or they just don't like you because a lot of them
are hopped-up on crack cocaine or other drugs. They quote, "Feed you to the
wheels." So, they toss you off the train. So, it's incredibly dangerous in
terms of these gangsters who prowl these trains, mostly in the south of
Mexico.

GROSS: Did you meet up with any of these guys when you tried to replicate
Enrique's journey?

Ms. NAZARIO: Yes, I met up with many gangsters along the way. When I was
deciding to do this journey, I tried to build in as many safeguards as
possible, but I knew that to really give a vivid account of what it's like for
these children coming up on these freight trains, that I would have to go and
do this journey myself and ride on top of these freight trains through Mexico.
So, I did the journey exactly as Enrique had done it. And so where he starts
riding on freight trains, I get up on these freight trains, and I ride through
two thirds of Mexico on top of seven freight trains.

In the southern most state, I had armed guards with me who I convinced to go
with me. They were with an immigrants rights group. And they came with me
along the ride. They had AK-47s and shotguns, but there were still gangsters
at the end of my train who were knifing people and robbing people. And
oftentimes in the train stations, they would approach me, and I had some hairy
experiences with them.

GROSS: So, while you were riding the train, did you always meet young people
who were trying to illegally enter America? Are there always immigrants
riding those trains?

Ms. NAZARIO: There are immigrants on every train. The trains in southern
Mexico that I road on had about a hundred people. The trains that Enrique
rode on had about 200 people on them. Now people talk about how there are
two, 300, 400 people on the trains in southern Mexico. The numbers thin out
as you get further north because many of them are caught and deported, or
they're harmed in some way, and they turn back. And so the numbers do thin
out. But there are these--it's an amazing experience to board a train and see
these hundreds of people clinging to the sides and tops of these trains trying
to get to America. The train is really, for these immigrants, a living,
breathing thing, and they give it names. And some of the more noble names are
`the pilgrims' train,' `el tren peregrino' or they call it the `iron horse'
because it will propel them forward to their destination. But the immigrants
who know the dark side of the train call it the `train of death.' And those
who have been harmed by the train, who have been cut up by the train call it
the `train that devours.'

GROSS: What are some of the most typical places and some of the most typical
ways that these young illegal immigrants are busted on their way to the United
States?

Ms. NAZARIO: Well, oftentimes the immigration authorities in Mexico will
stop the train in isolated spots, and they'll do a sweep of the train. And
they'll grab them, and they'll line them up, and they'll rob them of their
possessions. And, sometimes, depending on whether you have enough money to
bribe that particular official, you'll be let go or you'll be deported. It
often doesn't take much money to be let go. In Enrique's case, it was a times
30, 40, 50 pesos, 3, 4 or $5 to be let go. But oftentimes, the immigrants
don't have it, and so they're caught, and they're put on what's called the
`bus of tears,' which is what the immigrants call it. It's this bus that
picks up immigrants who have been caught up and down Mexico and takes them
back across the southern border and deports them.

GROSS: So, do you think that most of the Mexican officials are corrupt? The
ones who deal with illegal immigrants?

Ms. NAZARIO: My experience and the experience of others who look at this
issue in Mexico is that, certainly, a significant minority of these officials
are corrupt and they do shake them down and then deport them, if possible.

GROSS: And what about the agents on the American side of the Mexican-US
border?

Ms. NAZARIO: The immigrants that I spoke to had a much better opinion of
them in terms of their honesty and the way that they treat immigrants. That's
said, as the number of Border Patrol agents is expanding, there are more
reports of agents who have been corrupted in terms of allowing immigrants to
enter the United States, looking the other way as smugglers pay them to do
this. But it's unclear how common that is at this point. But the immigrants
have a much better view of US Border Patrol agents than they do of the Mexican
counterparts.

GROSS: So, once Enrique, after trying this, like, seven times, he finally
makes it into the United States. And then once he gets across the border, now
he first has to actually find his mother, who at the time was living, I
believe, in North Carolina. It's not like he's ever been to America before.
It's not like he know his way around. And it's not like he has any money.
And, at one point, he even loses her phone number, doesn't remember her phone
number or her address, so how did he actually go about finding her and getting
to her once he crossed the border into the US?

Ms. NAZARIO: Well, when I found Enrique, he's on the Mexican side of the US
border across from Texas. And like a lot of children who have arrived to that
point, he's been robbed of all his possessions, including the little scrap of
paper where he keeps, he's written the phone number to his mother. And that's
all he really has. And all he knows is that he's supposed to keep going north
and asking people and eventually, hopefully, he will get pointed the way of
North Carolina. So, he's lost that phone number. But unlike a lot of these
other children who have no way of calling back to their home countries because
there is no telephone in their villages, he has one phone number he can call,
get the number again to his mother and try to continue his journey north. So,
he calls her, and she agrees to help him, at that point, obtain the services
of a smuggler to help him get across the US border.

GROSS: Sonia Nazario is the author of "Enrique's Journey." She'll be back in
the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: Coming up, Enrique finds his mother. We continue our conversation
with journalist Sonia Nazario.

And John Powers reviews the new DVD edition of John Ford's 1939 classic film,
"Young Mr. Lincoln."

(Announcements)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Sonia Nazario.

Her new book "Enrique's Journey" is expanded from her Pulitzer Prize-winning
series of articles in the Los Angeles Times. It follows a teenage boy from
Honduras, who travels thousands of miles to find his mother in the US. His
mother was working in the US as an illegal immigrant. Like many illegal
immigrants, she came here to get a job so she could send money back home to
her children.

When we left off, Nazario was describing what happened when Enrique finally
made it to the US-Mexico border. He had been robbed of all his possessions.
He phoned his mother in the States, and she agreed to send him money for a
smuggler to help him get across the border.

And how do the smugglers work?

Ms. NAZARIO: Smugglers work depending on how much money you have. If you
have a lot of money, you can pay them to go through the official entrances to
the United States. And there are people who are willing to drive you with
certain type of papers from the United States of another person to enter that
way. That's the most expensive way to get in. Other people walk into the
United States and they pick you up with a car. There are safe houses on the
other side where you can hide if the authorities are tracking you. But,
oftentimes, you get caught coming in, but many times--what Enrique does is he
contracts with a smuggler who he's been living with on the Rio Grande, and he
knows the guy has a good track record.

A lot of smugglers will take your money and leave you stranded. But he's seen
this guy take people across the river, swim across the river with them, and
then he has two other smugglers who meet him in their SUV a few blocks across
from the river. And they get into the car, and they drive to where--close to
where there is a highway checkpoint, and there they get down from the car and
the smuggler walks them around the checkpoint and then the SUV picks them up
on the other side of the checkpoint.

So, it depends on how much you're willing to pay in terms of how much walking
you'll have to do. There are differing rates whether you're going to walk one
hour, 12 hours through the desert, 24 hours through the desert, or you're
literally going to come across in a car from Mexico to the United States
through an official checkpoint.

GROSS: While you were trying to replicate Enrique's journey from Honduras to
the United States as an illegal immigrant, you met a lot of children who are
taking that route. Did you do anything, like, what were your ethical
guidelines about whether you should help them in any way? Give them food,
give them directions, help them call relatives, help them call their mothers
in the United States. I mean, there's a lot, potentially, that you could have
done but that would have been, kind of, changing the story. So, how did you
figure out what you thought was the most appropriate way to behave?

Ms. NAZARIO: Journalists really don't want to go into a situation and change
the situation. You want to go in and describe reality, describe the truth of
something to people. And so I tried to intervene as little as possible and,
generally, my rule was not to intervene. And that was very, very hard because
20 or 30 times a day, I would have an immigrant ask me for money or ask me for
something, and largely I did not help people. But there were times that I did
intervene and my drawing line was, if I felt that someone was in imminent
danger, and if I helped them, oftentimes, they could not be a part of the
story because I felt that I had changed the story in that way. So, there were
moments like that where I did intervene, but there were moments where I really
didn't. Enrique is in Mexico, and he's struggling mightily to come up with
$10 so he can buy a phone card and call Honduras to get the phone number to
his mother which he has lost in on his journey. And he washes cars, and
oftentimes he goes 24 hours without eating. And he's really having a hard
time. And I have a cell phone in my purse. I do not give him my cell phone
because I know that that will really change the story in a fundamental way. I
do track him very carefully to see is he eating once a day. And I know all
the safety nets that he has, the church that's helping him, this person that's
helping him. And when he hasn't eaten for 24 hours, those are the moments
that I choose to take him to McDonald's and we do our big sitdown interviews.
So, I try to be sensitive to the situation, but also knowing that I can't
change what's happening.

GROSS: In your book, you explain that a lot of the children who idealize
their mothers after their mothers leave them in their home country, then go
out in search of their mothers, but once they find their mothers, their
mothers are no longer the ideal that they had in their fantasy. And there's
resentment and anger at the mother for having left them. The mothers are no
longer that familiar with the children, so it takes time for them to really
get to know their children again. Things don't always go so well in those
relationships. How did Enrique and his mother get along when he finally made
it to her home?

Ms. NAZARIO: Well, these children really--Enrique really does idealize his
mother. A lot of these children talk about, you know, how they smell their
mother's clothes, they look at her photo, they try to remember what she looks
like. And they see her as someone who will fix whatever problems have arisen
in their life with her not there at their side to protect them or to help them
in different ways. But when they reach the United States after these long
separations--Enrique doesn't see his mother for 11 years.

And so, when Enrique arrives, there is this brief honeymoon and,
unfortunately, he has all these resentments that arise in him because he feels
like she abandoned him, she left him. She said she would be back in a year or
two, and she didn't come back. And so he really goes into this spiral and
gets into a lot of trouble again, but he feels that his mother should get down
on both knees and apologize to him for leaving him. And his mother Lourdes
just can't do that. She struggled through so much, and she felt that she's
done this all for him and his sister to provide them with a better life, with
a chance to eat, with a chance to study, for the things that she didn't have
as a child. And so, she just can't go there, and so they come to this
impasse.

And, unfortunately, what happens with a lot of these families, these millions
and millions of families in the United States, is that these women lose the
love of their children and they lose what's most important to them which is
this, in any culture, but particularly in Latino culture: the family unity.
And it's not a happy ending in many cases. And a lot of these children are in
these conflicted homes and they try to find that love that they thought they
were going to find with their mother elsewhere.

And some of the experts on gangs, for example, in Honduras and in the United
States, say that there is a disproportionate number of gang members who come
from homes where the mother left them behind for a time, and there were these
family separations because they're trying to find that love elsewhere.

GROSS: When Enrique gets to his mother's place, you know, he's cursing a lot,
he starts drinking more and more, he's smoking a lot of marijuana, and this is
all very upsetting to his mother. She tries to talk him out of it. But she
really has no authority over him, she has no control over him, and he makes
that really clear to her. So, how does his presence change her life, for
better or worse?

Ms. NAZARIO: Well, she's guilt-ridden because she wonders if he would have
turned out this way had she stayed by his side. She wonders how would he have
turned out differently if I would have stayed in Honduras. And she sees him
spiraling, and she just can't get it into his head that she did this because
she loved him so much and she wanted something better for him. And so they
come to a point where she literally tells him, you know, `Either you have to
shape up and stop doing these horrible things that you're doing, or you have
to get out of my house.' And so, they're faced with a prospect of possibly
living apart again.

GROSS: When Enrique comes north, he leaves his girlfriend in Honduras, and
she's pregnant with his child. She gives birth. When the book ends, she's
starting to come north to try to be with Enrique, leaving their daughter
behind as Enrique's mother had left him behind. Where are they now? Where's
the daughter and where is Enrique's girlfriend?

Ms. NAZARIO: I don't really want to go beyond what the book says in terms of
their lives, but to say that he is happy with his mother and the girlfriend
does make it to the United States. But I don't really--in terms of their
privacy and I would prefer to leave it where the book ends.

GROSS: I was surprised that Enrique was willing to leave his daughter behind
in Honduras, given how resentful he was that his mother left him behind.

Ms. NAZARIO: He thinks that he will be able to leave her behind for a short
period of time and that he won't let it stretch out into years as his mother
did. He thinks he'll do things differently. But somehow, in the near future,
they'll be able to bring her north or they'll be able to go back to Honduras
together. But, unlike his mother, he will not make the same mistakes as his
mother. He will not allow years and years and years to pass before he is able
to see his daughter.

GROSS: Is Enrique working now?

Ms. NAZARIO: Enrique is working now. He paints houses. He lives with his
mother, near his mother. He goes to her every morning and he gives her a big
hug and she gives him a cup of coffee. And he's gotten past his resentment,
and he's allowed the strong love that he felt towards her all his life to move
ahead of the resentment that he's really felt towards her these years. And
so, they really love each other.

GROSS: My guest is Sonia Nazario. Her new book is called "Enrique's
Journey." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sonia Nazario. Her new
book "Enrique's Journey" follows a Honduran boy who makes a perilous journey
to the US to find his mother, an illegal immigrant who came here to get a job
so she could send money back home to her children.

Let's talk a little bit about immigration policy now. You describe our policy
now as schizophrenic. What do you mean by that?

Ms. NAZARIO: It is schizophrenic, in the sense that we continue to build up
the US border in terms of immigrants being able to enter the United States
illegally. But once those immigrants are in the United States, in terms of
any kinds of raids on businesses or any kind of enforcement on businesses who
hire workers illegally, it's gone from sporadic enforcement to virtually no
enforcement. So, basically, once you're in the country, you're home free.

GROSS: The House passed a bill in December on immigration. What does this
new proposed bill that the House passed say?

Ms. NAZARIO: Well, the House is largely looking at improved or they're
looking to bolster border enforcement. So they're looking, for example, to
build a 700-mile long fence along the US-Mexico border to re-enforce the
border, to add more Border Patrol guards and the like. The House bill also
calls for increasing the penalty for illegal entry into the United States and
for imposing criminal penalties on churches and social service groups that
help undocumented workers. And church and social service groups are very
opposed to this.

GROSS: Do you think that the Senate is likely to pass a similar bill?

Ms. NAZARIO: It's unclear whether they will pass a similar bill. The Senate
is also focused on obtaining a temporary worker program. And they're less
focused than the House on these kind of measures that try to penalize illegal
immigrants and penalize those who help them or employ them. So, this issue is
going to come up before the Senate in March and be debated with competing
bills, but ultimately the Senate and the House will have to reconcile their
versions. And it looks like the House is adamantly opposed to a temporary
worker program. So what may happen is that the issue will, once again, be
tabled. But the issue is building in terms of its importance to the American
public. Two thirds of Americans believe that there is too much immigration to
the United States, so there is pressure building on the Senate and the House
to do something.

GROSS: Well, President Bush has said that he wants a guest worker or a
temporary worker plan to be a central part of any new immigration law. And he
said that this program could match workers with willing employees on jobs that
Americans won't do, and that this would help Border Patrol agents focus on
criminals as opposed to focusing on job seekers.

Would you describe the president's proposal?

Ms. NAZARIO: The president wants to allow immigrants to, who are in the
United States illegally, to apply to work legally for three years, and then
re-apply to work for another three years. So a total of a six-year program.
The concern is that a lot of immigrants will not apply for the program because
they know that after six years they may be kicked out. And so it would be
easier to just continue to work illegally in the United States, especially if
there are few sanctions for doing so. So, there is a concern about whether it
will really work. And there's a concern about how this would affect native
workers in the United States, people born here, in terms of, again, their
wages and their ability to obtain some of these same jobs in construction, as
mechanics. It's clear that some jobs, for example, in agriculture there are
some jobs that it is very difficult to find native workers who are willing to
do them. They are just such heinous jobs.

And Enrique's mother Lourdes talks about doing some of those jobs. She
sometimes cleans homes where there have--a suicide has been committed, and she
has to clean that up. There are jobs that she feels strongly that there are
native, people born in the United States, that don't want to do those jobs.
But again, the House is largely, seems to be opposed. Republicans in the
House seem to largely be opposed to President Bush's plan, so it's unclear
whether it will go forward or not.

GROSS: Why is the Republican Party divided over immigration reform and what
are those divisions about?

Ms. NAZARIO: Some Republicans believe that the past immigration reforms
allowed certain number of people, millions of immigrants, to become legal with
the promise that there would be a clamp down in terms of employer sanctions on
those who hired illegal immigrants. And that what came about was the first
part of the equation, but the second part of the equation was never acted upon
truly by the federal government. There's a part of the Republican Party that
says, `We want to see border enforcement first. Don't talk to us about guest
work or programs, temporary worker programs, or any kind of amnesty at this
point. We need to see that the federal government is willing to really
enforce our laws in the United States in terms of illegal immigration.

Another part of the Republican Party believes that you have to have a
comprehensive approach to illegal immigration. That you just can't cut off
who's coming now. You have to deal with the 11 million folks who are in the
United States illegally right now. You need to bring those people out of the
shadows and provide them some path to either become temporarily legal or
permanently legal ultimately. And so that's what the fight is about. Do we
allow people in this country, illegally, to have a path to become legal? Do
we reward, as some Republicans believe, law breakers? Or do we just build a
fence, provide more enforcement and keep any new immigrants, illegal
immigrants out? It's a huge issue because there are 700,000 immigrants coming
to the United States illegally every year, and there are a million who come to
the United States legally or become residents of the United States every year.

That's a lot of people, and it's changing communities around the country. And
a lot of people see many of the positives of those changes, but there are
obviously also negatives to those changes as well. It's more an issue of who
benefits and who doesn't from that flow.

GROSS: Finally, I'm wondering how writing this book and writing the Pulitzer
Prize series that preceded it changed your views on immigration in the United
States?

Ms. NAZARIO: I think what most stunned me was the gritty determination of
people to make it to this country. I'd been in many countries, but I really
didn't, at heart, understand the factors that are driving people out of these
countries, how they live. What really struck me was that, in order for this
to truly change, this has to be addressed at its source.

The other thing that really struck me going through Mexico was not only the
cruelty that's visited on these people but the incredible kindness that's
visited upon these immigrants in some of these places in Mexico. There are
these villages where the train slows either for a curve or to pass through a
village, and there are people who come out to the tracks and many of these
people earn 1 or $2 a day, and they barely have enough food to feed themselves
or to feed their children, and oftentimes, you will see 20 or 30 people coming
out as the train is approaching, and they'll wave to the immigrants on the
train and they'll bring out those bundles that they'll throw to the immigrants
on the train, and it's oftentimes a little bit of bread or a tortilla or
whatever food is in season or a plastic bottle of water. Or if they don't
have anything at all, they'll come out and give a prayer to the people coming
by on the train. And sometimes these immigrants who haven't eaten for days
coming through Mexico, they haven't had water in a long time, and they'll sob
when these bundles land in their arms as they are passing through these
villages on these trains.

It's an incredibly moving, moving experience to see those sorts of things. To
see people who give who have nothing to give, but they give what little they
have.

GROSS: Well, Sonia Nazario, I want to thank you very much for talking with
us.

Ms. NAZARIO: Thank you.

GROSS: Sonia Nazario is the author of the new book "Enrique's Journey."

Coming up, John Powers reviews the new DVD edition of the 1939 film, "Young
Mr. Lincoln."

This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Critic at large John Powers talks about 1939 classic film,
"Young Mr. Lincoln"
TERRY GROSS, host:

Just in time for Presidents Day, John Ford's 1939 classic film "Young Mr.
Lincoln" has been released on a new two-disc DVD edition by the Criterion
Collection. The film stars Henry Fonda. Our critic at large, John Powers,
says that this portrait of Honest Abe is more fascinating than you might
expect.

Mr. JOHN POWERS: When I was a kid, American History class specialized in
mythology. You know, made-up tales like George Washington's encounter with
that cherry tree. Airbrushed by legend, our nation's presidents came to seem
like the looming stone faces on Mount Rushmore, heroic, grand, all but
untouchable. Which is why my favorite was always Abraham Lincoln, who also
came shrouded in mythic apparatus, log cabins and rail splittings and speeches
written on envelopes, but whose sad eyes hinted at complexity, vulnerability
and soulfulness. That's not a happy face you see on your $5 bill.

Oddly enough, one of the most strikingly ambivalent portraits of the Great
Emancipator came in a Hollywood movie, "Young Mr. Lincoln," which was just
released on a new DVD. It was made in 1939 by director John Ford, whose works
are routinely described as classics. "Young Mr. Lincoln" is a classic in
that sense. It's one of the great American movies, but it's classic in
another way, too, in the clarity of its vision. No movie about an American
president has ever been less sanctimonious or sentimental.

Abe Lincoln is played by skinny 34-year-old Henry Fonda who sports a
prosthetic nose and the distant homespun manner that came to define the actor.
It defines Lincoln, too. We watched Abe's transformation from a sweet-natured
young man not quite sure of his ambition to a canny, politics-minded lawyer,
who in the major story line defends two poor farmers accused of killing a
nasty sheriff's deputy. Along the way, we get a snapshot of mid-19th century
America in its social extreme. From the cheerful sociability of a pie-baking
contest, Abe has trouble choosing between the peach and the apple to the fury
of that same community forming a lynch mob, forcing Lincoln to stand between
his neighbors and the men they would hang.

It's Lincoln's gift that he's able to use his "folksie" manner and easy wit to
pragmatic ends. Here, for example, his questioning of a prospective juror at
the farmer's murder trial winds up with him zinging the well-known local DA.

(Soundbite from "Young Mr. Lincoln")

Mr. HENRY FONDA (As Abraham Lincoln): You say you've never discussed this
case.

Unidentified Actor #1: No, sir, I never did.

Mr. FONDA: Ever hear anybody else discuss it.

Actor #1: No, sir.

Mr. FONDA: How long you been a barber in this town?

Actor #1: Oh, about 18 years, going on.

Mr. FONDA: And you never heard it mentioned?

Actor #1: No, sir, not that I remember.

Mr. FONDA: Do you know, the gentlemen who is prosecuting this case, Mr.
Felder?

Actor #1: I guess I know him.

Mr. FONDA: Then you're excused.

Unidentified Actor #2: Your Honor, this is a waste of time. Mr. Lincoln
should know that the mere fact that a prospective juror knows counsel for the
state does not disqualify him.

Mr. FONDA: I know that, John. What I'm afraid of is that some of the jurors
might not know you, and that would put me at a great disadvantage."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. POWERS: Abraham Lincoln was nothing if not clever. And though the film
is clearly on his side, it doesn't make Honest Abe a conventional hero.
Instead, he's a folksy, seamy man, who stands apart from the people, who think
of him as one of them. Ford emphasizes this by playing up Lincoln's
distinctive appearance, the stovepipe hat and black suit that make him look
like a sinister, if dapper, scarecrow. And this sense of Lincoln's
exceptionalism is re-enforced by Fonda, whose eerily acute performance often
finds him staring into space or lost in hermetic ruminations.

Where the characters around Lincoln all seem like 19th century types, he's a
profoundly modern figure. At once brooding and filled with a sly sense of
show biz, possessed of a self-consciousness miles beyond anybody else's, this
Lincoln appears to be caught somewhere between his own common humanity and his
own destiny as a great man.

While "Young Mr. Lincoln" is worth seeing at anytime, it has a special
resonance on Presidents Day, especially in this hysterical era when our
presidents, like all politicians, are routinely reviled as liars, crooks and
unprincipled compromisers. Some politicians are corrupt or stupid, of course,
but Ford's film reminds us that even the greatest of our presidents had his
cold almost monsterside. Even when absolutely sincere, he was also
calculating. He used his self-deprecation and good-humored folksyness to
manipulate the world into doing what he wanted. Not to mention, pushing
himself forward. Lincoln did what politicians must do, and watching Fonda's
performance, you sometimes feel you're seeing a template for the successful
presidential runs of "The Gipper," "The Man from Hope" and "George W. Bush."

We often think of the past as being more naive than our own wised-up times,
but no contemporary political movie offers a more unsettling image of public
life than the next to last scene of "Young Mr. Lincoln."

The trial is over and Lincoln's inside the courthouse. `The crowd is
waiting,' someone cries to him, and the courthouse door swings open. Lincoln
stands there, starkly lighted, all in black, preparing to meet the roaring mob
that's eager to embrace him. In Fonda's face at once still and disconcerted,
we can picture everything that will follow: the White House, the Civil War,
Ford's theater. We sense the terrible swift sword that is power.

GROSS: John Powers is film critic for Vogue. He reviewed the new DVD edition
of "Young Mr. Lincoln."

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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