The book, winner of the 2018 Ridenhour Book Prize and finalist of the LA Times Awards (among other recognitions), tells the story of the Flores twins, who at age 17 decided to abandon the violence and poverty of El Salvador and undertake the trip to the United States in search of a better life. Alone, they managed to cross the Rio Grande and the Texas desert to reach Oakland, California, where their elder brother lived. It was in Oakland where Markham, who works in immigration at Oakland International High School, met the Flores twins up close, as reported in The San Francisco Examiner.
Raised in a rural village in El Salvador in the years before the civil war, Ernesto and Raúl Flores (the author used fictitious names to protect their identities) always had a fascination for the United States, the land of opportunity. Ernesto always dreamed of visiting the north one day, while Raúl did not share the same interest for the United States as his "hermanos lejanos" (his "faraway brothers") who lived there.
Finally, it was necessity what drove them to escape. At age 17, Ernesto fell on the "wrong side" of a dangerous criminal gang, and his life was in danger.
Arriving in the United States was not an easy trip. After crossing the Rio Grande and the Texas desert, the Flores brothers were stopped by the immigration authorities, and from there into the custody of their older brother, who lived in Oakland.
Soon, the two boys were faced with the challenge of having to adapt to a new school, a new language, while having to work to pay the money they owed their "coyote," the person who helped them to enter the country. Among the difficulties of adaptation, they also discover the world of the American teenager: girls, academic grades, Facebook...
In her book, Markham does not forget to detail another "shorter" trip that the two brothers had to undertake: traveling to San Francisco from Oakland to attend court to regulate their immigration status. The author details how the two brothers travel alone from Oakland and get lost in the big city, where they must attend a hearing in front of the judge in a Montgomery Street court, and do not dare to ask for help, for fear of revealing their vulnerability as immigrants.
“We really need to do something about these kids with court dates,” Markham said while speaking about writers and immigration at the Bay Area Book Festival, which was held April in San Francisco.
Unfortunately, Ernesto and Raúl Flores arrived in the United States in 2013, too late to qualify for the DACA program, the legal protection program for undocumented children implemented by Barack Obama in 2012 and which the Trump administration has now decided to eliminate.
But returning to their country—to live under the constant threat of violence and crime—was an option they couldn't consider. In 2013, 93 percent of children who came alone to the United States arrived from Honduras, Guatemala, or El Salvador, the so-called "Northern Triangle."
"One of the finest virtues of 'The Far Away Brothers' is that it makes vibrantly real an issue that some see only as theoretical, illuminating aspects of the immigrant experience normally hidden from view. The obstacles the twins faced in getting their visas could be paradoxical, diabolical and sometimes downright ridiculous. Who would have known that their fate could ultimately hinge on finding a working fax machine in a small town in El Salvador?" wrote literature critic Jennifer Senior in The NY Times.
Markham not only analyzes the situation in El Salvador and the odyssey of the Central American immigrant. She also analyzes the legal system that surrounds immigrant minors in the United States, the programs they are eligible for, etc. And about Trump's idea of building a border wall, her answer is very clear: it is impossible. In a review of the book, The New York Times stated, "We’ve already got 650 miles of one, a dotted line of fences along the border," then quoted the Markham's writing, "To connect all of them would mean building through massive swaths of harsh deserts and high mountains.”
For detained immigrants, "attending" immigration proceedings via videoconference is the increasing norm. It's cheaper and logistically easier for the government, but it means (shocker) worse outcomes for immigrants in court. Thanks to @MotherJones for letting me tell this story. https://t.co/iBxsMuD3oQ