Illegal: Life and Death in Arizona's Immigration War Zone

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FROM A DEADLY BORDER TO AMERICA'S KIDNAPPING CAPITAL—THE SECRET LIVES AT THE HEART OF THE IMMIGRATION WAR Arizona's violent border is the busiest gateway for illegal immigration in America, making the state ground zero for the immigration debate. No state is as hostile to the undocumented, and no city is as unwelcoming as Phoenix. Yet Phoenix is home to thousands who live in the shadows, where civil rights are neglected and lives are lost. Illegal sheds light on the invisible immigrants who persevere despite kidnappings and drug wars, an ongoing recession, and laws barring them from setting foot in Arizona, working, and driving. By profiling these undocumented people, and those—like notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio—who persecute them, author Terry Greene Sterling courageously exposes the dangerously tattered fabric of a divisive national crisis.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Terry Greene Sterling puts a human face on a dishonest immigration debate. The sheriff is ugly, the laws harsh and pointless, the people poor, eager, hunted—and the people are our new neighbors regardless of our neighborhoods. Read this moving and surprising book before speaking out on who belongs here and who does not. You’ll be happy you did.” —Charles Bowden, award-winning journalist and author of Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields “Immigration is the twenty-first century’s Grapes of Wrath. And, like John Steinbeck, Terry Greene Sterling focuses on the people of illegal immigration—victims and perps—to show us what life is truly like on the frontlines of the immigration issue. From official neglect to rape, murder, kidnapping, and death, Sterling takes the lid off the world of illegal immigration and exposes the whole snake pit.”—Paul Perry, New York Times bestselling author, documentary filmmaker “What a vivid portrayal of the Arizona immigrant underground. Illegal is not afraid to show the bad decisions immigrants make along with their resilience and strength of spirit. This is the total picture, a heartbreaking one in a state that has chosen to demonize its Mexican residents.”—Tony Ortega, Editor in Chief, The Village Voice “No one brings you into the illegal immigration underground quite like Terry Greene Sterling. Her gritty descriptions of border crossers, transvestites, and child molesters will linger in your thoughts. Her achingly beautiful accounts of everyday people and tragic situations really stick with you. From Sheriff Joe Arpaio's bravado to a locked-up mom’s longing for her child, the stories in Illegal are strikingly vivid, and the author’s reporting flawless. No one should even attempt to speak on the matter of illegal immigration in Arizona without reading Illegal first.”—Ashlea Deahl, editor of PHOENIX magazine “Arizona is ground zero in America’s immigration battles and Terry Greene Sterling writes about the struggles of the people involved with authority, passion and compassion. Her insights and observations are detailed with nuance and substance that can’t be acquired by dropping in when the story is hot. This book and her blog, White Woman in the Barrio, reflect her ongoing commitment to telling stories about the people in addition to the policies that are front and center in the immigration wars. If you want to understand what is going on in Arizona now, Illegal is the book to read.”—Rick Rodriguez, Carnegie and Southwest Borderlands Initiative professor, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, Arizona State University
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781599218618
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 7/1/2010
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,517,044
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Terry Greene Sterling is a Spanish-speaking award-winning journalist and photographer based in Phoenix, which is ground zero for the nation’s immigration wars and home to most of Arizona’s five hundred thousand or more illegal immigrants. She is Writer-in-Residence and a faculty associate at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. She has covered all aspects of the American West, including immigration and Latino issues, for twenty-five years. She has won more than fifty national and regional journalism awards, including several awards for diversity writing. She is a three-time winner of Arizona’s highest journalism honor, the Virg Hill Journalist of the Year Award, and was a staff writer at Phoenix New Times for thirteen years. Her stories have appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, including The Washington Post, Newsweek,, The Nieman Narrative Digest, Preservation Magazine, Arizona Highways, High Country News, and PHOENIX Magazine, where she is contributing editor. She also has a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College in Maryland, where she studied with Tom French and Walt Harrington, two master narrative journalists. She is a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors and The American Society of Journalists and Authors. Her blog on her experiences and findings investigating the "border battle" in Arizona can be found at, an intereactive web site that includes photos, videos, maps locating border deaths, book tour events, etc. She can also be followed on Twitter.

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 6, 2010

    Couldn't put it down! Arizonans, please read this book.

    Terry Green Sterling's treatment of the border issues facing Arizona is truthful, sensitive and epiphanic. I travel often in Mexico and Sonora in particular and have witnessed the accuracy of Terry's account of the people and her experiences. I live in Phoenix and agree with her astute assessments of the conditions she describes on both sides of the border. She does an excellent job of portraying a cross section of the Latino community, the problems they face, the circular logic in laws and enforcement that create a lose-lose situation for us all.

    Though her anecdotal stories are persuasive, she backs up her appraisal with hard facts and figures from reliable sources. She presents the arguments used on both sides of the debate and provides the readers with enough evidence to form their own opinion. The reader sees the heartbreak of families torn apart, the frustration of Latinos and Anglos waiting for a solution, and the hate fertilized by fear.

    This book was nearly impossible for me to put down. Not only was "Illegal" informative, but she has a beautiful and captivating writing style that draws the reader in and holds you till the very end. You will not soon forget the haunting humanity Terry parades before you, one by one. I wish everyone in Arizona and those affected by these immigration issues would read this book. I also wish our politicians in Washington, who determine immigration reform legislation would read this book too.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 10, 2010

    Must Read This Book

    Terry Greene Sterling has done an amazing job of showing us the human cost of our broken immigration system to citizens as well as non-citizens.

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  • Posted July 10, 2010

    True Border Story

    This book shovels away so many ugly illusions about what is happening at the U.S.-Mexican line. I have never read a story about immigration and the border that is both so well informed and written so deeply from the heart. Truth is harsh here, yet is rendered to the reader so tenderly. Terry Greene Sterling is inured to the territory to the point where affectation would be impossible. It is a monumental achievement in both research and narrative. I am rereading it already, because I didn't want to put it down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2010

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