Cracking the immigration impasse: Author-educator weaves tales of humanity to expose the real “crisis” at the U.S.-Mexico border

“We all deserve a narrative with clarity, and Towle’s has delivered. Spectacular!” 

–Ken Burns, renowned filmmaker

It was family separation and “kids in cages” that drove Sarah Towle to the U.S. southern border. On discovering the many-headed hydra that is the U.S. immigration system–and the heroic determination of those caught under its knee–she could never look away again. “Crossing the Line: Finding America in the Borderlands” (She Writes Press, June 18, 2024) charts Sarah’s journey from outrage to activism to abolition as she exposes, layer by “broken” layer, the global deterrence to detention to deportation complex that is failing everyone–save the profiteers and demagogues who benefit from it. 

Deftly weaving together oral storytelling, history, and memoir, Sarah illustrates how the U.S. has led the retreat from post-WWII commitments to protecting human rights. Yet within the web of normalized cruelty, she finds hope and inspiration in the extraordinary acts of ordinary people who prove, every day, there is a better way. By amplifying their voices and celebrating their efforts, Sarah reveals that we can welcome with dignity those most in need of safety and compassion. In unmasking the real root causes of the so-called “crisis” in human migration, she urges us to act before we travel much farther down our current course — one which history will not soon forgive, or forget.

Renowned filmmaker, storyteller, and historian Ken Burns praised Towle’s work, saying: “Sarah Towle has obliterated today’s dead-end arguments about immigration and transformed them into riveting, human stories. We forget that ideas—good and bad—have always crossed our borderlines; only human beings need a piece of paper. We all deserve a narrative with clarity, and Towle’s has delivered. Spectacular!”

“Crossing the Line:

Finding America in the Borderlands”

Sarah Towle | June 18, 2024 | She Writes Press  

Creative Nonfiction / Memoir / History 

Paperback | 978-1647425791 | $17.95

Ebook | 978-1-64742-580-7 | $9.95

About The Author

Sarah Towle is an educator, researcher, and writer; a human rights defender, nature lover, and choral soprano. She resides in an ephemeral borderlands, buffeted and buoyed by a diversity of languages, cultures, landscapes, and creeds. She has taught English language literacy, cross-cultural communication and conflict resolution skills, and the writing craft for three decades across four continents in myriad classroom contexts, including under the trees in refugee settings. An award-winning children’s author, Sarah has earned accolades for her interactive tales for educational tourism. “Crossing the Line: Finding America in the Borderlands” is her debut full-length book. 

Sarah is the proud mother of a powerful, confident adult woman. She is grateful to have found her soulmate, who triples as her editor and personal chef. She and her family share a home in London with their rescue hound, Gryffindog, who keeps everyone laughing and gets Sarah away from her desk and walking (when she’s not crossing borders). In addition to getting “Crossing the Line” across the line, Sarah publishes opinions, stories, and audio-tales regularly on Substack: Tales of Humanity. Find her podcast, From the Borderlands, wherever you listen. Learn out more about Sarah at

Follow Sarah Towle on social media: 

Facebook: @sarah.towle | Instagram: @sarahtowle_author | LinkedIn: @sarah-towle

Praise for “Crossing the Line” by Sarah Towle

“Simultaneously a searing indictment of inhumane immigration policies and a moving testament to the resilience of the human spirit, Sarah Towle’s Crossing the Line is public-interest storytelling at its finest. A brilliant, engaging, and essential read for anyone seeking a true understanding of America’s borderlands.” 

—Toluse Olorunnipa, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of His Name Is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice

“With Crossing the Line Sarah Towle exposes the relentlessly cruel US immigration system, while restoring the human faces to an issue that is so often lost in a blizzard of polarizing ideology and hate. She makes it clear that what is unfolding now is not just Trump-era politics—it’s rooted in more than a century of American exploitation of our southern neighbors. For anyone who wants to understand the reality of our dysfunctional immigration system beyond slogans, Crossing the Line is an absolute must-read.”

—Scott Allen, Former Editor, Boston Globe Spotlight Investigative Team

“A beautiful book, awesomely reported. What an accomplishment and contribution to this issue. Sarah has written this with great empathy. The focus remains squarely on rehumanizing those most harmed by US immigration policies. The chronology makes the meta-story even more riveting and appalling.” 

–Heidi Ostertag, executive producer of  Oh Mercy—Searching For Hope in The Promised Land by Worldwide Documentaries

“Crossing the Line is a well-researched yet accessible exposé of border policies that harm migrants and undermine the promise of America. From the ‘family separation’ policies of the Trump administration to the massive growth of immigrant detention, Towle’s ability to weave together first-hand stories of accidental activists—including priests, attorneys, and concerned locals—with the broader policy context is on display in an ambitious book infused with a profound commitment to humanity and justice. Every concerned citizen should read this book.”

—Austin Kocher, Research Assistant Professor, Syracuse University

“A powerful work. Sweeping and majestic and a striking, flowing synthesis to tell the overall story that needs to be told.”

—Camilo Perez-Bustillo, author of Human Rights, Hegemony, and Utopia in Latin America

“With a propulsive narrative and an engaging style, Crossing the Line is an important contribution to our understanding of the borderlands, and by extension, America itself.”

Reece Jones, author of White Borders

“What grace-filled and beautiful writing. Thank you for capturing our community’s story!”

—Dylan Corbett, Executive Director, Hope Border Institute, Regional Assistant Coordinator, Vatican Migrants & Refugees Section

“Thanks for lifting up these voices and not relenting. Congratulations on a compelling read.”

—Luz Virginia Lopez, Senior Supervising Attorney Immigrant Justice Project, Southern Poverty Law Center

“Inspiring and transporting from the opening passage. A journey of historical context expertly weaved into the human experience, allows the reader to relate to the current border climate on so many levels. I did not want to stop reading. Abrazos.”

—Elizabeth “Lizee” Cavazos, Angry Tías & Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley

“Absolutely BRILLIANT, a masterpiece! It feels so lonely at times, like no one understands. But Sarah sees us here in the borderlands, flying the tattered flag of what this country’s ideals are….It all touched me deeply.”

—Madeleine Sandefur, Angry Tías & Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley

“Sometimes you ache for the unvarnished truth. Sarah Towle tells it in this book – the whole truth, good, bad, and ugly. She speaks for the silent hordes seeking “the lamp beside the golden door” to be opened for them, giving access to the wonder that is America.”

—Merry Hancock, Cameroon Advocacy Network

“Powerful and true. An important historical account.” 

—Juan-David Liendo-Lucio, Team Brownsville 

 “The personal stories bring the historical narrative to life.”
Anne Marie Murphy, author of A Perfect Fit (TidePool Press, 2025)

In an interview, Sarah Towle can discuss:

  • The real crisis at the U.S. southern border
  • What drew her to this issue and why she got involved in telling the stories of migration
  • Reintroducing humanity to the conversations around immigration
  • Her own journey of awakening while still focusing on sharing the narratives of the displaced as well as those attempting to offer welcome
  • The problem with the base-line policy plank of border management: prevention through deterrence
  • The importance of replacing the question “How do we stop human migration?” with “Why are so many people on the run?”
  • Legacy of Department of Homeland Security and why it stands as a model example of “U.S. systemic racism”
  • The “conscience-shocking wrong” that she uncovered while researching this book and why it turned her outrage to activism then abolitionism
  • How language fuels hate and division; how today’s media are contributing to the problem
  • The cultures of impunity inside Department of Homeland Security and why they threaten the safety of all U.S. residents today
  • Greater cultural ramifications to U.S. society if we continue not to address the many-headed hydra that is the U.S. immigration system

An Interview with

Sarah Towle

We live in a world that has a great number of issues and injustices–what made you particularly interested in investigating the injustices surrounding immigration? 

The topic of immigration–and forced displacement–has been a focus of mine throughout my adult life. In my 20s, during the Dirty War era, I worked in Central America. I spent three to six months each year for five years bearing witness to U.S. military intervention in the region, while teaching teachers of refugees and the internally displaced in El Salvador as part of a Freirean-inspired mass-literacy campaign. The rest of the year, I worked in New York, teaching English and helping to resettle newcomers from the former Soviet Union and Haiti. Then, out of graduate school, I got recruited to help develop and implement a mass English-language and literacy campaign in China, and my life as a migrant by choice and privilege began. 

I’ve been moving across borders in pursuit of opportunities ever since. But even before choosing to live in the ephemeral borderlands, I viewed diversity as an exciting, prevailing good and immigration as a net positive for societies. Newcomers make communities better: They bring new tastes, new tunes, new energy, new perspectives. Some populate sectors where employees are always needed; others bring novel ideas that create employment opportunities for new and old residents alike. They pay taxes that support our schools and fire departments, the construction of our roads and maintenance of our bridges. They contribute to the social security system, thus aiding our elderly.

Then came Trump and his bans and raids and zero tolerance and family separation as a brutal consequence–a punishment–for doing what humans have done since time immemorial: move; for doing what I enjoy as a privilege of my skin tone, academic credentials, and passport: traverse the world in search of self-betterment, learning, and adventure. I was outraged by family separation. Had we learned nothing as a people? The cries of “kids in cages” compelled me to go to the U.S.-Mexico border to see for myself the evil Trump had wrought. Once there, I quickly understood that the border strategy of “cruelty for cruelty’s sake” did not start with him. He wore it out loud, like a badge of honor. But it was the continuation of a bi-partisan project that grew up all around me–all around us–hiding in plain sight, and dating back as far as the Dirty War era, if not farther.

My curiosity piqued, I could not look away again.

What compelled you to turn these new insights into a book?

When I first discovered what I now refer to as the “many-headed hydra” that is the U.S. immigration system and border management regime, I was ashamed that I had not recognized it before, especially given my professional background. I didn’t even know, back in early 2018, that the U.S. is surrounded by a 100-mile law enforcement zone, policed by the largest, most troubled, and least transparent armed force in the world–the same force that when ordered to separate families, did; the same force that disappeared Black Lives Matter protesters into unmarked vans and cleared a public park for a presidential photo op. I did not know that said force claims jurisdiction over nine of the country’s 10 largest U.S. cities and two-thirds of its total population. I did not know that in this area, the Fourteenth Amendment has not universally applied since the 1970s. And I had yet to understand the extent to which these structures sprang from the same white supremacist loins upon which the United States was founded. I resolved to peer under the lid to find out what I should have known, but didn’t. When I realized that I wasn’t alone in this lack of awareness, I further resolved to share everything that I had come to know. 

So I came to the topic of human migration from a personal place, but what makes it stand out for me is that it intersects with all other existential issues of our time: The warming planet and the violent capture of nation-states by free trade and global capital both drive forced human displacement, which is increasing year upon year. The rise in human trafficking and transnational organized crime, which I believe are the direct result of hardening borders, everywhere, that encircle the world like a second equator, creating a global apartheid. 

Is there a crisis at the American border? And how would you describe that crisis? How does it differ from prevailing narratives about the “migrant crisis?”

The only crisis at the U.S. southern border, and around the globe more generally, is the crisis of the hardening of the human heart–a world in which empathy has seemingly expired. This crisis is the result of the collective turning away, on the part of the world’s wealthiest nations, from post-WWII commitments to value and respect human rights as they’ve steered us toward a “security-first” paradigm. 

The prevailing “crisis” narratives are manufactured by profiteers and political parties that have nothing constructive to offer and everything to lose, so they resort to demagoguery and fear mongering. Their “crisis” is closer to reality-TV than to reality, disseminated by their own propaganda machines posing as news outlets through set pieces and photo ops they create to support a make-believe “invasion.” Tragically, their language, their rhetoric, their harms and horrors messaging has now so thoroughly infiltrated the mainstream media, even the so-called bastions of a liberal mindset, including the current Democratic Party, look positively Trumpian on this issue. 

The greatest danger, really, is the cruelty and violence of the Border Industrial Complex itself. Strip back the law and order “security” apparatus and you will find borderlands communities enriched by cultural diversity and exchange; you will find good people, fine people, just living their lives. I’ve crossed the entire 2000-mile line, and I’m here to tell you: There is no “invasion.” There are, however, people seeking safety from endemic hemispheric dysfunction created by more than a century of unjust economic and foreign policy choices on the part of successive U.S. governments. And there are the normalized “cruelty for cruelty’s sake” practices of shackling and imprisoning, of denying due process, and expelling people back to harm, which gets ratcheted up year upon year upon year. 

You grew up during the Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Labor Rights and Anti-War movements. How did this shape your approach to researching and writing “Crossing the Line?”

These influences likely shaped who I am and why I was drawn to this topic in the first place, with the research and writing approach coming as a natural second. There were many social justice conversations that impacted my worldview from my earliest days. Perhaps the two most formative moments were listening to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which gave everyone in my world great hope; and witnessing, on the nightly news, a Vietnamese girl about my age streaking naked down a dirt lane, fleeing a village in flames, her face streaked with agony as her back burned from the fire of a U.S. napalm bomb. I responded as a child would: with pure empathy, unadulterated by the politics that justified terrorizing civilian populations. It was an injustice and outrage that would mark me forever. 

At that time, my family and I lived in one of two deliberately integrated U.S. communities, Columbia, Maryland. We worshiped in a multi-denominational church. My father was, even then, a proponent of universal health care, a lone voice for the cause of health care as a right, not a privilege. In my high school years, I was not in the majority as a white Christian. These experiences turned me into a pacifist and provided me an awareness of systemic, racialized inequities in U.S. culture and institutions at a very young age, while simultaneously surrounding me in an embrace of racial, socio-economic, and cultural diversity. 

I suspect they propelled my interest in cultural history and anthropology as well as my determination, from the age of 12, to become a polyglot. This was not an easy task in English-dominant U.S. society with an English-only movement ascendent. So I left. Working across cultures and languages as an adult found me, ultimately, in the esteemed role of training whole school communities in the creative and peaceful resolution of conflict, what is now called Social & Emotional Learning. I plied these skills in post-9/11 New York City with such positive results that even amid the destruction of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, I never imagined the world would swing so quickly and dramatically away from the promise of inclusion to wide scale division; from a human-rights to security-first paradigm that now locks people up in ideological prisons, afraid to engage with others who do not think like them, much less look like them. 

As a storyteller, I try to reach back to the empathic response that fueled my youthful outrage toward first the Vietnam War then Cold and Dirty Wars; I try to embody my former students’ willingness to confront conflict and disagreement with words, not fists. I strive to center the lived experience of my story subjects as a way to celebrate the humanity we share. And I try to steer clear of using dehumanizing labels that rob us of empathy, which is hard to do when such language has for so long been normalized. Like the use of “America” to mean the United States. The arrogance embedded in that one word is, I believe, a big part of the problem.

Did you take your own bias and privilege as a white person and voluntary migrant into consideration when approaching the subject of marginalized groups seeking refuge? 

Absolutely. And in two critical ways. But let me first clarify that this book is as much about the folks providing welcome as about those seeking safety and a dignified life. As a twist, though they share privileges, like me, simply by virtue of their birthright, they are also marginalized in this context. They are the folks flying the tattered flag of U.S. values, putting out fires and saving lives every day, with little thanks and less respite. They get no funding from the government while it spends billions of taxpayer dollars each year on enforcement officers, surveillance systems, prisons, guns, and planes. So, just as those displaced and in search of safe haven are victimized by our current immigration laws and systems, so are their helpers. Now Texas Senate Bill 4 threatens, among other things, to make humanitarianism illegal. It isn’t the first attempt.

To return to your question, I proposed this project to participating story subjects as a collaboration, written as much through me as by me. I requested their permission to center their voices in the context of my own awakening to the issue–to show, rather than tell, their stories. Their experiences informed and drove my excavation of the book’s key historical themes. I also invited all story collaborators in fact- and quote-checking and final verification of their passages–a practice unheard of in journalism, for example. It was a monumental undertaking that roughly 75 of the over 100 people in the book embraced–from the U.S. borderlands to D.C. to the U.K. to Cameroon. With this methodology, my intent was to place their stories beside or above my own in a gesture of respect for their role as my teachers, mentors, and guides. But also to illustrate to our readers that behind the tropes and slogans and dehumanizing labels, there are real people facing real challenges that have the power to instruct us, if we’d only listen.

At base, however, this is a book about the harms and horrors, the harvest if you will, of white supremacy and empire. And what better person to write that tale than a white person who’s spent her adult life trying to confront her own unconscious biases? My intention from the outset was to use my privilege as an ally, to harness my positionality to speak to those, like me, who are educated and compassionate, who place a value on human rights, but who have not had the opportunity to see what I have seen; who have not themselves laid eyes on and recognized the human cost of their privilege; who are not fully conscious of the prevailing power of the white supremacy project and our potential complicity within it. But who, I believe, would be outraged too, if they only knew. And will act when they do.

They are the target audience for me and my collaborators. We aim to speak directly to them in hopes of growing our ensemble into a mass choir capable of singing in harmony and with volume, to spread the message that we can, that we must, do better. 

Your lifestyle and life experiences are considerably different from the people you’ve written about in this book. What advice do you have for writers potentially in the same position? How can writers and historians ensure they approach subjects with respect, caution and care?

Go. Be with them. Roll up your sleeves and work beside them. Bear witness. See for yourself. Ask those forced into homelessness in cartel-controlled Mexican border tales what they need, then provide the basic human dignities denied them: water, medicines, clean underwear, a nap. Carry life-saving water into the Sonoran Desert, even if it means breaking laws. Chances are, the laws are not just, like the Chinese Exclusion Act, which didn’t even try to hide congressional racism and which birthed the precursor to the US Border Patrol. Volunteer in a borderlands shelter, like Annunciation House in El Paso, which is currently under threat as humanitarianism is vilified. Provide welcome to the new arrivals to your town or city. Visit the tens of thousands of non-criminal offenders currently disappeared into the 200+ prisons of the U.S. immigration gulag: there is, no doubt, at least one within an hour’s drive of you. Meet the imprisoned asylum seekers, engage with them, find out what drove them to flee. It’s the only way to appreciate that being born north of the line doesn’t make you better; it only makes you lucky. 

I’ve been called an “immersive researcher,” which is a less-jargony way of saying that my methodological practice is based on ethnographic research, or going “into the field.” Yes, as a writer I must spend lots of time in my office devouring books and staring at a computer screen. But that time is balanced with putting myself as close as possible to the lived experiences of my story collaborators and meeting their humanity with my own. It’s about walking, to the extent possible, in others’ shoes. Literally.

Why do you think conversations around immigration became less about the humans involved and more about the politics? 

It’s a political mis-direction as old as time–the playbook of demagogues and opportunists for millennia. We are living in an age when the worst human impulses are again gaining strength, causing history to tilt toward evil once more. In our case in the U.S., one political party has nothing to offer. They have no solutions to the real issues we face as a people so they fearmonger, appealing to base human prejudices to blind us in order to distract us.

Demagoguery is convenient. But the reality is that one in every one hundred people on the planet right now has been forced from their own home. Human displacement is inextricably linked to global poverty and climate breakdown. Climate breakdown and global poverty are inexplicably linked to centuries of land and water theft and resource extraction of less developed nations by those with means and power and wealth, not to mention war. 

When the destructive harvest of these practices was distant and local, it was harder to see the toll to both human and climate wrought by the long arm of privilege for the goal of corporate and personal profit. But now, the empire’s destruction has grown so vast it can no longer be hidden. Likewise, thanks to the digital interconnectivity of people and things, folks in the Global South can see what they are missing. 

So whether fleeing harm or seeking better, mass human migration is a protest against structures of injustice and inequality. The powers-that-be are reacting by vilifying and victimizing their own victims. They strip them of their humanity and stereotype them as “diseased” and “criminal” as a means of maintaining a status quo that so obviously needs changing. They keep us divided so that we don’t see how dangerous their systems have become; so that we don’t question whether or not these systems actually work. From what I’ve seen, they don’t. Indeed, they’ve turned us all into the true barbarians at the gate.

How do you reintroduce humanity into these conversations? What effect do you think humanizing migrants will have on opinions about the migrant crisis?

It’s true that rational arguments such as those above don’t move people. Say these things at a cocktail party and you’ll see your friends running to the bar for a double. Touch them on the empathic level, however, and they listen. 

Only individual human stories–not slogans or talking points–can transform irrational fear into awareness and rational action. Only storytelling holds the power to touch hearts and change minds because it taps the human capacity to empathize. In “Crossing the Line,” I strove to place the experience of real people at the center of all other things–historical and policy analysis; statistics and data–to prioritize humanity even within tales of tragedy, horror, and harm. Through huma experience, I aim to show what’s going on, rather than tell it. I can only hope at this point that my collaborators and I were successful.

Can you discuss the importance of replacing the question “how do we stop human migration?” with “why are so many people on the run?” 

Essentially, it’s about whether you believe people are being pulled to the Global North, or pushed. The powers-that-be maintain that people are pulled to the U.S., for example, as they long for a shot at the elusive “American Dream”–another trope. Of course, there is some truth in that argument: If you can make in one day or week what you would make in a year back home, doing the same job, then obviously you will desire to move toward a better paycheck. It is the rare person, however, who elects to pull up stakes and leave behind family and friends, culture and a language, in short everything they’ve ever known, and set out on a journey across borders and into a life of perpetual exile. Especially when they must do so on foot; especially when they must pass through places where they are bound to meet danger at every turn, where they may face mortal peril. No. People don’t leave home unless they must. Unless they are pushed. Unless it is more dangerous to stay.

Asking only “how do we stop human migration?” blinds us from looking into what is driving northward migration. Neoliberal economics provide incentives for transnational corporations, such as no taxes, no environmental controls, and a race to the bottom in wages, that have led to land theft, environmental degradation, and the inability for people across vast swaths of the Global South to earn enough money to support a family. Even basic survival through subsistence farming is becoming rare. Decades of U.S. money, weaponry, and military training to fund first the Dirty Wars and then the so-called Drug War now the so-called War on Terror have corrupted state structures such that the lines between cops and cartels are now completely blurred. Then, there’s the fact that the effects of greenhouse gas emissions pumped into the atmosphere by Global North societies are felt most drastically in the drought and flood zones closest to the equator. Added up, all these factors have thrust onto folks south of the line multiple volatile contexts from which the only escape is flight. But while goods and money as well as ideas, good and bad, are able to move instantly across borders today, people cannot.

Your research for this book led to a legal action against ICE. Can you tell us what that’s about? And where does it stand now?

Trump & Co did much to drive a knife into the heart of an already beleaguered immigration and asylum system in the U.S. I refer to their efforts in my book as “death by 1,000 cuts,” which were really more like 400 cuts, some of which were visible to the general public. But most of which were not. One was to lock asylum seeking individuals from majority-Black nations away in Deep South prisons and refuse to let them out even with the coronavirus pandemic turned prisons into death traps exacerbated by prison guards and ICE deportation officers denying their captives masks and hand sanitizer and taking no precautions, themselves, when then moved in and out of and through facilities. When people got sick, they were denied medical care. Many died or were forced to ride out the illness in solitary confinement. Basically, it was a shit show; and in the waning months of Trump’s one-term administration, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, they attempted to get rid of any evidence of these human rights abuses by emptying ICE prisons of African asylum seekers. 

From August 2020 through January 2021, there were one to two flights per month aboard Omni Air International Boeing 767 wide-bodies. Omni Air is a Department of Defense contractor that moonlights for ICE and whose parent company, Air Transport Services Group, boasts as its majority shareholder. Thousands of people were flown back across the Middle Passage in a mass deportation effort, always in chains, in a dress rehearsal for what’s to come if Trump & Co takeover the White House again.

You wouldn’t have known any of this, however, unless you were willing to pay into the extortionist phone calling system owned and operated by GEO Group in order to be a lifeline for those locked up. I was. And that’s how I came to collect hours and hours of testimony about the conditions of ICE detention and deportation. All individuals imprisoned under ICE, even asylum seekers who pose no threat to U.S. society, are bound in five-point restraints while being transported, and more: if someone expresses fear of removal or transfer to another facility, as many did during the pandemic, they get tackled to the ground by ICE’s sixteen to eighteen-member Special Response Teams, a knee put on their neck by one officer as the others immobilize their bodies in an additional  restraint called The WRAP. 

The WRAP is only supposed to be used, “when cuffs just aren’t enough.” It was intended for use in law enforcement contexts when a person has become a danger to him or herself and needs medical attention, stat. But I tracked down and interviewed dozens of people returned to harm in Cameroon. What I learned is that ICE has transformed The WRAP into an instrument of coercion of the many through the torture of a few. I took my findings first to a contact at the Southern Poverty Law Center, who connected me with Fatma E. Marouf, director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at Texas A&M University. She and her students applied case law to my research, resulting in our filing a complaint against ICE in October 2021. 

The WRAP complaint was then joined to four other complaints filed on behalf of the Cameroon community for civil rights abuses during their prolonged incarceration, resulting in an internal Department of Homeland Security investigation. For a while there, we thought we’d convinced Biden’s ICE to bring everyone back–the crimes committed by agents of the US federal government being so obviously illegal and egregious. Our interlocutor at ICE promised a sped up process of return under humanitarian parole as long as Prof Marouf, her colleague, and students did the painstaking, time-intensive job of preparing applications for each individual. These were submitted in summer 2023. So far, no word. 

So we’re now preparing to escalate to litigation. I am not at liberty to share anything further at present. Suffice to say, this is not what I thought I was writing about when I began the book project. But the cultures of impunity within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security are now central to the narrative.

What do you hope people take away from this book?

I want them to recognize that humans have migrated–in search of opportunity and a way out of poverty or to escape traumatic circumstances–for as long as homo sapiens have walked this earth. I want them to tap into their own family’s migration stories, whether they came by choice or were brought by force, and find empathy for those arriving at our shores today. Behind their movement are similar stories of famine, war, persecution, and zero economic opportunity. 

I want them to understand that the perennial philosophy of religions and societies the world over–to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give the thirsty to drink–is being daily flouted by governmentally funded structures so powerful and pernicious that they have normalized the deprivation and abuse of human rights on a grand scale; that these structures and practices are built on dehumanizing an “other;” that they commit crimes against humanity, daily; and if we don’t stop now we may, ourselves, be complicit in a silent genocide against people seeking safety.

The vilification of the world’s most vulnerable people by the migration control regime, what’s more, has become the snake devouring its own tail. We need immigration. Without it, we have children fulfilling the jobs of men, and our elderly falling into destitution as our social security system crumbles. 

We have, what’s more, some of the most evolved surveillance systems in the world. We can distinguish between a little girl arriving unaccompanied and someone intent on doing harm. We just don’t want to.

I want those, like me, with the privilege to cross borders without thinking to question why others can’t. The more we are able to see the systems of normalized cruelty and oppression, as well as who and what is commanding them, the more easily we’ll be able to figure out how to dismantle them. Because we need to dismantle them.

By introducing readers to those both trapped under the monstrous knee or on the front lines modeling, every day, that there is a better way, I hope to bring humanity to what I believe is one the most pressing issues of our time. And at the same time, I hope to provide readers with a handbook for a more humane age. The tales I’ve collected and curated for “Crossing the Line” are a manual for the movement for Just migration. From protest to direct service to congressional advocacy to writing a book, and more, there’s a part for everyone to perform in the growing chorus. I hope readers will join me in singing from the rooftops not just the need for immigration reform, but the need to abolish the system of destruction currently in place and replace it with something more in line with our values and more responsive to human needs. 

First and foremost, it’s time to eschew the crisis and threat narrative and to demand our elected officials to do the right thing: acknowledge that human rights are in direct conflict with bordering practices in a security-first paradigm; that borders are a form of state violence, reinforcing global inequalities and unequal access to a dignified life; that migration is the result of political and economic instability, climate crisis, and neoliberal economic practices gone awry; that race, class, and place biases are baked into U.S. immigration processes and laws. 

Finally, I want everyone to understand that people are not illegal and that none of this is neutral. As long as we refuse to tear the border industrial complex apart, all our rights to safety, mobility, and a dignified life become more compromised and elusive every day.

Download press kit and photos