Who uses it: Immigrants who cross the southern border of the United States illegally.
What it means: Guides who help run would-be immigrants across the border -- by foot, crammed into vans, packed into crates and car trunks, and worse. Coyotes charge exorbitant fees and treat their clients as anonymous and expendable human cargo.
How you can use it: When discussing immigration policy reform.
The mayor of Lewiston, Maine caused an international uproar in the fall of 2002, when he published a letter telling Somali leaders that the city could no longer accommodate new immigrants. Lewiston, a city of 36,000 that is no one's idea of a glamor spot, had taken in more than 1,000 Somali immigrants in the past 18 months. "The city is maxed-out financially, physically, and emotionally," the mayor wrote.
He was accused of racism, a situation that became much worse when a white supremacist group backed him -- with friends like that, who needs enemies? Today, the population of Lewiston, which is declining, is approximately 7% Somali. (Which is what I told the cab driver who took me to National Airport this week, when he asked, "They got any black people in Maine?") And Lewiston understands that assimilating its new immigrant population is essential to any hopes it might have for economic revival. Maine's population is aging and declining; where will growth come from, if not from immigration?
The current system is obviously not working. Demagoguery on both sides of the issue doesn't help. One of the books I read this week should be required for anyone who's making policy on these issues.
What I Read This Week
Peter Abrahams, Oblivion. A surprisingly moving thriller about a private investigator who suffers a brain trauma that causes short-term amnesia. He's lost three days of his life, and becomes convinced he can only save himself by solving the mystery of those three days. Beautifully written, ingeniously plotted, and deeply compassionate. Just terrific.
Susan Kandel, Not a Girl Detective. The second in Kandel's Cece Caruso series, about a biographer of crime writers. In this book, Cece and her two best friends get involved in a murder case that curiously mirrors the books of Cece's latest subject, Carolyn Keene, the pseudonymous creators of Nancy Drew. A fun read, with lots of great trivia about Nancy Drew's history.
Tim Dorsey, Torpedo Juice. The plots of Tim Dorsey's novels are almost irrelevant to the fun of them, which comes from the laugh-out-loud descriptions of southern Florida and the gonzo personality of Dorsey's main character, Serge A. Storms, a psychopathic Floridaphile. In his latest adventure, Serge decides to get married, and foils an evil real estate developer and a disgraced Enron-style executive along the way.
Luis Alberto Urrea, The Devil's Highway. In May 2001, 26 men -- really, 24 men and two boys -- walked into the Sonoran Desert, crossing the border with three coyotes who promised to lead them to Ajo, Arizona. Just a few days later, a Border Patrol officer found five of them near death, lost and dehydrated and cooked by the sun; ultimately, only 12 of the men made it out alive. The Sonoran Desert is stark and beautiful and inexorable, and so is this book -- which, in the chill of a Maine spring, made me reach for my bottle of water and thank God for the accident of my U.S. citizenship.