Terry Greene Sterling is going to be in Tucson later this week to talk about her book, "Illegal: Life and Death in Arizona's Immigration War Zone." I don't often write blogs about immigration-related books because there are so many and so few of them are worth our time. But, this one is definitely worth reading.
The book tells the stories of several illegal immigrants living in Phoenix who Sterling followed for 17 months, taking readers beyond the heated rhetoric surrounding border security and illegal immigration. Sterling describes Phoenix as the harshest city in the country for people living without proper documentation.
"I wanted to get their voices out," Sterling said. "I wanted to know why they stayed here? Who they were?"
An Arizona native and veteran journalist — she worked 14 years for the Phoenix New Times and is now a Writer-in-Residence at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University — Sterling said her whole life prepared for the book.
She knew she couldn't bring the stories of all the 375,000 illegal immigrants estimated to be living in Arizona, so she honed in a few living in Phoenix that she found interesting. Like "Rodrigo," a transvesite construction worker, and Joaquín, a painter suffering from kidney disease.
"Rodrigo, a Tehuacán transvesite, framed houses by day and seduced married men by night," writes Sterling in the preface of the book. "Joaquín, a painter suffering from end-stage renal disease, deported himself to Mexico City in a desperate quest for a kidney transplant."
"I wanted them to be true," said Sterling this week about the stories. "And I wanted them to go wherever they went."
Her profiles also include a man and wife who were arrested by Maricopa County Sheiff Joe Arpaio's deputies in a raid of a Phoenix car was in 2009. And she even devotes a chapter to Arpaio, which includes a fascinating section on what little is known about his childhood in Springfield, Mass.
Rather than getting overwhelmed with the enormity of the illegal immigration and border security issues that served as the backdrop for the book, she focused on the people.
"It was just profile writing," she said. "In depth, intimate profiles."