Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli

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Summary

Tell Me How it Ends by Valeria Luiselli is a book-length essay in which the author recounts her experiences working as a volunteer interpreter in New York City's immigration courts, not long after the 2014 declaration of a crisis in the arrival of unaccompanied minors into the US. Her language skills and background as both a Mexican national and immigrant from South Africa make her intimately familiar with the US Citizenship and Immigration process—this gives her a special insight into this experience.

Many of the immigrants she encountered were fleeing omnipresent, deadly violence from the ongoing civil conflicts and wars between huge, militarized gangs such as MS-13 and Barrio 18 in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Luiselli links the civil strife in these countries with the influence of the US's military presence and backing of authoritarian regimes (supported by an officer corps that had also received counter-insurgency training in the United States). Providing more wide-ranging context, she elaborates on the origin of these military commitments with the Reagan administration and the manner in which they have continued to shape US immigration policy.

Even after departing Central America, the danger continues for the terrified immigrant children who must cling to the top of one of the trains of the La Bestia network, which will take them into Mexico. If fortunate, they finally arrive at a US detention center, which, despite its relative safety, is still a harsh, cold environment. There they will meet with an immigration official who will ask them the forty questions from the dehumanizing intake questionnaire, which they are barely capable of answering due to exhaustion, distrust, and trauma. For most of these children, their families have already been decimated; 80% of the women and girls have been raped, often by American vigilantes and border-dwelling ranch-owners who hunt undocumented aliens for just this purpose.

The problems of our broken immigration system, which have become far more serious in the years since the book's publication, still leave us without an answer to the question posed by the author's 5-year old daughter that serves as its title: "Tell me when it ends?"