Published in


Immigration | United States


Tales of Humanity and Heroism from the US Borderlands

“Let us be reminded that before there is a final solution, there must be a first solution, a second one, even a third. The move toward a final solution is not a jump. It takes one step, then another, then another.” — Toni Morrison, 1995

John Hood, graphic artist: Mliu92 / Public domain

For four long years, it felt like there was only one story in the world. Now life, for many of us, is getting back to normal — lockdowns are lifting, vaccines are rolling out, masks are disappearing, and Donald Trump is receding from our collective consciousness. But there was one sobering story of human endurance already in full stride before anyone had ever heard of Cambridge Analytica or COVID-19. It continues to unfold even with a more humane occupant in the White House, much as it was there before “the other guy” turned the cruelty up to 11.

I speak of the humanitarian crisis locked up inside US immigrant detention centers, stranded in shelters and tent cities all along the south side of the US/Mexico border, and loaded, daily, onto one-way deportation flights to death — injustices that have been committed by the so-called Land of Immigrants for decades, and right under the noses of most US Americans.

Now, as we enjoy the privilege of getting on with our lives, more people are displaced around the globe than ever before. They come fleeing violence, crippling poverty, and climate disasters. They undergo added traumas in search of the promise of freedom, clinging to the narrative of the American dream. They arrive, if they’re lucky, only to be shackled, imprisoned, and sent back to the same harm they fled.

This the tale THE FIRST SOLUTION aims to tell.

The story unfolds through the voices and actions of the volunteer foot soldiers I met while traveling the Tex/Mex border in January 2020. These accidental heroes continue to fight a guerrilla war for human dignity, flying the tattered flag of American values as their nation’s leaders openly and unapologetically commit unspeakable human rights violations.

Tired of being outraged by the smattering of news stories emanating from the borderlands during the Trump years, my husband and I went there as the new year and decade dawned to see for ourselves what was happening. We planned to bear witness from Brownsville to El Paso, with a bit of “we” time in Big Bend in between. But what we witnessed was far worse than we imagined. Indeed, the headlines barely scratched the surface of the cruelty and criminality of the Trump administration.

Once stuck in with Sergio and Mike from Team Brownsville, Cindy and Madeleine of the Angry Tías, Gabriel and Perla from the refugee camp, and Joshua and Camilo from the Witness at the Border’s #EndMPP (Migrant “Protection” Protocols) vigil, we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave Brownsville.

Trump & Co hadn’t just stop people from crossing the border, they stopped their stories from crossing, too. At the urging of all we met, I resolved to capture them and share them in this travelogue of a road trip, and nation, gone awry.

I interviewed humanitarians as well as detainees, tangled with security personnel as we hunted up kids’ jails, and witnessed the poor excuse for due process at the border’s Kafkaesque kangaroo tent courts. I was entrusted with harrowing accounts of perseverance and survival by migrants then living in squalor in Matamoros — one of the most dangerous places on Earth even before COVID-19 joined the Gulf cartel to pose a daily threat to their lives. With MPP finally being rolled back and the camp broken up at the insistence of Mexican authorities, my attention has turned to the even more invisible — and costly — terror of the US immigration system: the deportation machine.

Examining the US’s troubled history with racial equality and its southern neighbors, and exposing the profiteers feeding off this human tragedy, I provide context for the stories of humanity and heroism highlighted in THE FIRST SOLUTION. My hope is that readers will see themselves in these stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things despite the longest of odds and become empowered to act on behalf of fairness and justice, dignity and democracy as well.

Potential agents, publishers, documentarians, please see my project pitch here. Collaborators, please don’t hesitate to contact me here.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Sarah Towle

Sarah Towle

Award-winning London-based author sharing her journey from outrage to activism one tale of humanity and podcast episode at a time @THE FIRST SOLUTION on Medium