The book is organized into seven chapters plus two appendices, a timeline and resources on immigration: 1. Creating Borders and their consequences; 2. Economic Realities; 3. Demythologizing the immigration Debate; 4. Family Values; 5. The Politics of Fear; 6. Christian Perspectives; and 7. Ethical Responses. The bulk of each chapter consists of testimonies, relevant to its theme, by immigrants, religious leaders and advocates.
In addition to providing economic, historical, legal and religious context for the ongoing drama of Latin Americans, mostly Mexicans, trying to nibble at the American Dream, De La Torre weaves first-person narratives throughout the chapters; he enlists over 25 persons who collaborate in making this a kaleidoscopic document. Among those who add their voices are immigrants about to cross, in the act of crossing or long-term residents who tell their unique, yet universally-ringing stories. The stories have as common denominator suffering. They show invariably that suffering compels people to leave their place of origin, suffering is the price they pay for crossing the border, and it never leaves their side while in the US. Their stories help us to understand that their vulnerability is a product of social structures, institutions and voters, all of which share responsibility in making the undocumented the least among us. They are human shreds, by-products and accessories of exploitation machines unceasingly spurning them on both sides of the border.
With the tightening of security controls at the post 9/11 US-Mexican border, undocumented immigrants have been crossing with increased frequency into the United States through riskier passages, like the Sonora desert, as their most secure bet to avoid detection, in pursuit of a job or family reunification. The 70 miles from the border to Tucson involve several days of walking, frequently under extreme weather conditions, over treacherous terrain rife with mosquitoes, snakes and scorpions among other hostile living organisms, which include, of course, Border Patrol agents, Minutemen Militia, unscrupulous coyotes and common criminals. Accompanied only by their hope of a positive change from the difficult lives they are trying to leave behind, many immigrants meet an untimely death, and all suffer beyond their expectations, for they ignore (if it is their first time) how the odds are stacked against them. The book is tough to read, and a furtive tear would not be strange to the empathetic eye. Nevertheless, De La Torre warns from the start, "I am not writing this to ask for sympathy. I am asking for action." He is addressing chiefly the majority of Christians in the US who are trapped in the discursive logic of patriotism, national (in)security, scapegoating for the country's economic woes and cheap anti-immigrant rhetoric. Christians are called to task for not taking a firm stand on behalf of the undocumented who bear multiple crosses before and after they set foot in the US. The author wants to fire up Christians to live an authentic life by practicing Jesus' teachings (e.g., Matthew 25:31-46; Lk10:25-37). Drawing from his own labor of love and others' among immigrants trekking through Arizona's unforgiving terrain, De La Torre points to a range of activities Americans can do to help, from demanding the enactment of a progressive immigration law to converting their churches in sanctuaries to direct service at the US-Mexican border, with organizations such as, No More Deaths, which supplies immigrants with water, food and first aid.
Trails of Hope and Terror is a timely book because it comes out at a time of national crisis: recession, unemployment, fiscal deficits and wars. America, it seems, can hardly afford to be charitable. And it is precisely now that a change of heart is most opportune; that is, if American Christianity is not just smoke and mirrors. People and organizations throughout the country will step up during 2010 their pressure on the Obama administration to address the need for immigration reform. Representative Gutierrez's Comprehensive Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 is a step in the right direction and will force Congress to discuss the issue. Democrats will have to show their true colors, either they live up to their reputation as the champions of immigrants or they will capitulate to the worn-out argument that American jobs will be saved by getting rid of the "illegals". All of us have an individual responsibility to act on an informed basis. With books like this we can't plead ignorance any longer.