Recent Work, News & Updates


Gangs in the USA

"A Chronic Case of Know-Nothing Amnesia," up today at Lapham's:

While MS-13 has taken center stage in our national discourse, the criminal groups of yore have become legend, cult figures, thrilling antiheroes. A gang is nothing if not fundamentally American; consider the outlaws of the West, the pioneers (those decimating forces), the bands of stagecoach robbers, the mob, all deeply embedded in American consciousness. We now glorify yesterday’s outlaw cultures—see Gangs of New YorkDeadwood—while continuing to vilify the newest outlaws and insist that, if not barred from entering our country, they will be our nation’s downfall. Race and who is considered a minority outsider have something to do with it. The Italian and Irish Americans who were once kept out of country clubs and barred from entering the country in too large numbers are no longer ill-considered minorities in the U.S. but, rather, part of the white majority. The cycle of excluding, marginalizing, and vilifying the newest groups of young immigrants continues with a retrograde abandon and scorn. We move predictably on to other targets of darker skin.

As much as “bad immigrants” are endlessly covered in the press, their eventual and invisibly slow conscription into the war against outsiders is a pervasive, if hardly remarked upon, phenomenon. Once the slandered immigrants of yesterday have been brought into the folds of today’s white majority, society turns them into heroes and finds new bad guys to take their place. For those of us from white immigrant or “model minority” backgrounds, it’s easy to succumb to historic amnesia, forgetting that we, too, were once the maligned newcomer.


J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize Finalist

Thrilled that The Far Away Brothers has been named a finalist for the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, which "recognizes superb examples of nonfiction writing that exemplify the literary grace, the commitment to serious research, and the social concern that characterized the distinguished work of the award's namesake, J. Anthony Lukas." 


LA Times Book Award Finalist

The Far Away Brothers is an LA Times Book Award Finalist in the Current Interest category. Hip, hip, hooray (and deeply honored). And also, the paperback (out in May) has a new cover. I'll miss the old one, but the new one is nice, too. 



This Route Doesn't Exist on a Map

My story in The New Republic on migrants from Africa & Asia making their way to South America by boat or plane, then heading north toward the U.S. border, overland. 

"One tragic lesson of the extra-continentales is that no set of governments, however callous, can solve the migration crisis by closing its doors to refugees seeking shelter. All Europe has done is redirect the flow of vulnerable humanity, fostering the development of a global superhighway to move people over this great distance. The doors will not hold, and neither will the fences. You can build a wall, but it will not work. Desperate people find a way.

'Cette route,' a French-speaking man from Cameroon told me, one sweltering afternoon in Tapachula on the breezeless balcony of a hotel frequented by irregular migrants, 'n’existe pas sur le map.' This route doesn’t exist on the map." Read more


"If These Walls Could Talk"

My "Letter from Norway," in Harper's, about the strange and futile history of border fortifications, focusing on one of the smallest and yet heavily disputed border "walls" in the world, in arctic Norway.

"The Arctic town of Kirkenes, in Norway, is where land meets sea, where water meets ice, where taiga meets open tundra, where even the membrane between day and night is always shifting. There are days without darkness and other days when the sun barely glimmers at the horizon. The town sits on the border between Norway and Russia, a 121-mile line through rock, river, and permafrost. On a cold, clear day in late winter, I parked in a small lot near the Storskog border checkpoint, nine miles outside town on a well-paved road that cuts through the Arctic hinterlands. Across a frozen lake, I could see Russia, dappled with petite arctic birch and spruce. It looked just like Norway, except it had a sheen of magic simply for being an elsewhere."



No Place for 200,000 People To Go - NY Times Sunday Review

My Op-Ed on Trump's decision on Temporary Protective Status for Salvadorans, up in today's New York Times opinion section.

The violence in El Salvador today is a direct result of both American foreign policy during the Salvadoran civil war and the immigration policy immediately following. In vowing to send nearly 200,000 people back to a country plagued by violence, we seem destined to repeat the same mistakes, with consequences perhaps even more dire than before.

Alex Wroblewski for The New York Times


The Far Away Brothers longlisted for a Pen American Award

A huge honor: https://pen.org/2018longlists/


The Last Fire, and the Next One

My story in Places Magazine about the changing landscape of disaster, and living in fire country. 

When you feel like you’ve lost everything, the insurance company makes you write it all down. Donna Taylor’s home in Northern California burned two years ago, along with the homes of her mother and her neighbors and nearly everyone in Anderson Springs. Donna was lucky — she and her family lived, and she had insurance — but now she had to present a full accounting of the loss. Every piece of furniture, every pair of pants, every bobble and jewel. Where do you even begin? 


Q&A with Mother Jones


The Wrong Way to Fight Gangs

My Opinion piece in the NY Times on the importance of investing in education for newcomer youth.  

"Central America’s endemic violence is not going away anytime soon, so, like it or not, these young people will keep coming, regardless of the walls we build or the immigration policies we enact. Excluded and disenfranchised young people seek inclusion elsewhere: on the margins, in the shadows, in society’s dark underbelly. Gangs provide that sense of belonging, along with a feeling of success and upward mobility, for those who are not offered the same in mainstream society."

Students participating in Soccer Without Borders after school programming. Photo by Monica Almeida, NY Times.