Monday, May 30, 2011

Book Review - Train to Nowhere: Inside an Immigrant Death Investigation

Why do immigrants risk robbery, rape, incarceration and even death to enter the U.S. illegally?  Why don't they just "get in line?"  The answer is simple, but the "close the border" folks don't want you to hear it: for a few, the line is decades long, and for most, there's no line at all.

Many fine books have already plowed this sad ground: The Snakehead, by Patrick Radden Keefe; Enrique's Journey, by Sonia Nazario, and my personal favorites, three volumes by Luis Alberto Urrea: Across the Wire, By the Lake of Sleeping Children, and The Devil's Highway.

Now add to your collection this new, different and important contribution to the genre: Train to Nowhere - Inside an Immigrant Death Investigation, by Colleen Bradford Krantz (Ice Cube Press, 2011.)

In 2002 a group of migrants from Central America were smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border near Harlingen, Texas.  There they were hidden inside empty grain-hopper railcars, presumably for a short trip past Border Patrol checkpoints.  The plan was to release them a few hours later, to resume their journeys into the U.S. by other means.  The plan failed: many of the migrants were discovered and arrested, but one railcar escaped notice and moved on down the line.  By the time it was discovered in Iowa, several months later, all that was left of eleven migrants was their partially skeletonized remains.  They had died horrible deaths by hyperthermia, as the sealed railcar had reached temperatures of 140 degrees and beyond.

Ruled homicides by the authorities, the deaths of the "Denison Eleven," as they came to be known, resulted in federal criminal prosecutions of the smugglers and their accomplices, along with a civil lawsuit against the railway.  Colleen Bradford Krantz, a writer formerly of the Des Moines Register, dug into the case and developed an award-winning documentary for Iowa Public Television in 2010.  Now she has fleshed out the fascinating characters of this true story - the victims and their families in the U.S and abroad, the criminals and the investigators - in a page-turner that all border buffs, immigration scholars and concerned citizens will want to read.  Character-driven, well-written, thoughtful and penetrating, "Train to Nowhere" is a valuable contribution to the study of migration.

For those of us "in the business," and especially those of us who live and work near the border, the suffering of migrants is nothing new.  So it's helpful and re-invigorating to view this ongoing tragedy through the relatively new eyes of the reporters and investigators in the "heartland," in Iowa, for whom, until 2002, the border and its problems had seemed far away and unimportant.

In the late 1960's a British blues band, Savoy Brown, issued a ballad entitled "Train to Nowhere."  The last stanza could have served as a warning to the Denison Eleven: "Please now brother don't you ride this train,
Ride the wrong rails, live your life in vain."

Train to Nowhere: Inside an Immigrant Death Investigation
By Colleen Bradford Krantz
Ice Cube Press (2011)

Colleen Bradford Krantz’s book, “Train to Nowhere; Inside an Immigrant Death Investigation,” is being released this month.  This is Day 1 of her week-long “blog tour.” Join her tomorrow at nonfiction book blog,  “Train to Nowhere” can be purchased at or on Amazon.  Learn more at or follow Colleen on Twitter @bradfordkrantz

Reviewed by Daniel M. Kowalski, Editor of Bender's Immigration Bulletin (LexisNexis) and Bender's Immigration Bulletin - Daily Edition.

1 comment:

  1. Based on the documentary, I imagine the book will be highly informative and well-told.

    - Jennifer Dukes Lee