Everyone Who Is Gone Is Here: The United States, Central America, and the Making of a Crisis by Jonathan Blitzer, Reviewed by Mark D. Walker


A most timely book rated #1 for the history of U.S. immigration, public policy immigration, and the history of Central America. About a third of my forthcoming book focuses on immigration from Guatemala, making this a must-read.

The immigration problem is growing exponentially around the world, and solutions are ignored for political benefit and expediency. President Biden’s executive order is designed to close the border, at least through elections. The only serious legislative reform created by both parties was abandoned by the Republicans, who blocked both legislation and funding, which could have diminished the crisis, once again, for political expediency. People need to focus on the underlying causes, domestically or in the countries where the immigrants are leaving, making this book so valuable.

Instead of solutions, the public dialogue on immigration is based on fear-mongering and misinformation, with the only solutions being to build walls and strengthen an already over-militarized border. In this book, based on extensive research, the authors weave the stories of migrants from Central America with the policymakers and history that created the havoc and humanitarian crisis we face today. He focuses on migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Some of Blitzer’s stories tell of the impossible choices the hundreds of thousands of migrants make after leaving their homes. In many cases, this will not be their first attempt to cross, nor the last in some cases, as this represents their only hope for safety and a better way of life.

The author also tells why this crisis did not happen overnight. He dramatizes the impact of decades of misguided policies and chronic corruption, weaving stories of lives devastated by chronic political conflict and violence with American activities and government officials, as well as politicians responsible for the country’s tragically convoluted immigration policy. He reveals the multilayer picture in a clear, concise way. He described the lives that ebb and flow across the border; he pierces the heart of American life and turbulent politics and culture in many ways.

The author sets the stage at the beginning on the circumstances of countries like El Salvador, where seventy-five people from twenty-five families controlled 90 percent of the country’s wealth. And how, in 1932, the military intervened in an inevitable revolt given the circumstances, slaughtering thirty thousand people, almost 2% of the population.

Or in Guatemala, where the CIA intervened in the only democratically elected administration and, along with the United Fruit Company, auditioned the new leaders of a “Liberation” force. With the revolutionary movement in shambles and whole segments of urban opposition decimated, the military and its death squads murdered the entire leadership of the labor movement as well as the upper levels of moderate political parties. This led to a ten-year civil war, which cost 200,000 lives.

Blitzer takes us through this sad period of history through the eyes of Myrna Mack Chang and her younger sister, Helen. Myrna trained as an anthropologist in England. Her real education started in Nicaragua, covering ongoing government repression and military rule. During the civil war, her focus was the enormous population of “internally displaced’ people where the repression had been worst. On the way home one evening, undercover agents attacked her. She was stabbed twenty-seven times and died alone in the street.

Myrna’s daughter, Lucrecia, focused on corruption, especially in the Ministry of Health, which exasperated the poor health infrastructure leading to one of the highest child mortality rates in the Americas. The United Nations established the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), an independent anti-corruption body investigating the criminal groups dominating the country. President Morales supported her work until the investigation led to several of his family members, after which he began dismantling the country’s only real whistle-blower. After a year and a half in government, Lucrecia resigned. Twenty-two judges and anti-corruption prosecutors were forced into exile.

Blitzer goes beyond the unfortunate impact of the U.S. government on Guatemala in the past and describes the disastrous effect of the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy. Half the parents deported without their children were Guatemalan. Depopulation in the departments of origin, Huehuetenango, El Quiché, and San Marcos, was depopulated. Although only six hundred thousand Mam speakers exist worldwide, it was the ninth most common language in U.S. immigration courts.

In some communities, up to 40% of the population left for the north. Climate change impacted many of these communities, forcing farmers to leave their land. The money generated by those who had made it filled many communities with unfinished houses from the remittances sent back from the U.S.

U.S. immigration policy would also impact Central America during the COVID epidemic, sending infected deportees to Colombia, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, and Haiti to a compromised healthcare system. At one point, the Guatemalan health minister announced that 50-75% of deportees who just arrived in the country from the U.S. were infected.

“What an incredibly thorough documentation of the causes of the immigration crisis, the discussions that have been going on through multiple administrations.” —Jon Stewart, The Daily Show


About the Author

Jonathan Blitzer is a staff writer at The New Yorker and an immigration expert. He has won a National Award for Education Reporting and an Edward R. Murrow Award, was a 2021 Emerson Fellow at New America, and received the Media Leadership Award from the American Immigration Lawyers Association. He lives with his family in New York City.

About the Reviewer

Mark D. Walker was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala and graduated from the Institute of Latin American Studies at the University of Texas in Austin. He spent over forty years helping disadvantaged people in the developing world.  Walker’s three books are Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond,  My Saddest Pleasures: 50 Years on the Road, named Best Travel Book, and  The Guatemala Reader: Extraordinary Lives and Amazing Stories.  He’s written 80 book reviews, and of his 30 published essays, two were recognized by the Solas Awards for Best Travel Writing. He’s a contributing writer for “The Wanderlust Journal” and “Literary Traveler.” His column, “The Million Mile Walker Review: What We’re Reading and Why,” is part of the Arizona Authors Association newsletter.  His honors include the “Service Above Self” award from Rotary International. He’s a Board member of Advance Guatemala, SEEDS for the Future, and the Arizona Authors Association.  His wife and three children were born in Guatemala. You can learn more at www.MillionMileWalker.com



Posted in All, Book Reviews: Latin America, Book Reviews: Non-fiction, Book Reviews: Travel, Travel and tagged , , , , .