By the Bridge or By the River? by Amy C. Roma (C&R Press, 2021).
“Refugees didn’t just escape a place. They had to escape a thousand memories until they’d put enough time and distance between them and their misery to wake to a better day.” —Nadia Hashimi
Before I began reading Amy C. Roma’s By the Bridge or By the River?, winner of the 2020 C&R Press Nonfiction Award, I hadn’t known that the vast majority of migrants arriving from Central America now come from the so-called Northern Triangle, consisting of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—a region known for its poverty and chronic violence. Or that of approximately one million apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border between October 2018 and September 2019—roughly double the number from the previous year—nearly half were families.
I hadn’t heard the terms “doghouse” or “ice box” used to reference holding areas in family detention facilities or understood the shocking syntax of the language of terror that is as affecting as the stories themselves that Roma tells in a book that focuses on the immigration crisis at the U.S. southern border—one of the most visible sites in the immigration debate, particularly in the time frame of her writing.
“It begins in 2018 just after the Trump administration implemented several high-profile policies, including family separation, which brought immigration to the forefront of American thought,” Roma writes in the book’s prologue. “But the immigration crisis transcends presidential administrations. It will continue to remain a constant national issue into the foreseeable future—sometimes slowly simmering in the background, and sometimes a raging boil consuming public attention.”
Roma provides us with a lens through which to consider a complicated subject tinged with political controversy, and with no easy answers. Most of us who are regular consumers of news hear every day about a refugee crisis of some sort. Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine in February, a dire and still-unfolding event, has already resulted in millions of displaced Ukrainian citizens seeking refuge across Europe and beyond, in numbers dwarfing the thousands of Haitian and Afghan refugees that drew headlines in 2021 as they sought asylum in the United States.