Terry Greene Sterling Q&A: Author to Appear at Changing Hands

No doubt about it -- our current immigration situation is a total shit storm. With all that's going on here, it's the perfect time for Terry Greene Sterling's book, Illegal: Life and Death in Arizona's Immigration War Zone. Sterling puts a face to the story through thoughtfully crafted profiles of everyday people who are navigating their lives through an impossible system.

We reviewed the book yesterday, and you can read a chapter here. Sterling will be making an author appearance and signing books in Tempe tonight, so we caught up with her via email to ask a few questions. 

These are such personal stories in the book. How did you find your interview subjects and get them to open up to you? 

I am politely but persistently nosy. 

The immigration debate was heating up so much while you were working on this book. What has that process been like? 

I wanted to write true, intimate stories about a few of the thousands of unauthorized immigrants who quietly live, work, play, sin, and die right here in the Valley, America's red hot immigration pressure cooker. As I got to know a few of these people, the immigration debate ramped up and affected these people in dramatic and unpredictable ways. The immigration brawl made their stories more urgently compelling. 

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As I was reading the book I found myself thinking: This immigration debate in purely, simplistic terms is about those who claim to belong here more than others. In 1949 Phoenix was roughly 17 square miles, with a population of 100,000 people. In 2006 Phoenix was a sprawling 500 square miles with 1.5 million people. This rapid development would suggest that, in a political sense, this is also a trans-American migration story not just about border-crossers from Mexico. What is your take on that? 

If you're suggesting Phoenix's population uptick of the last 50 years is largely a result of migration of Americans from other states, I agree. And if you're saying many unauthorized immigrants were attracted to the Valley by the jobs associated with that growth, I also agree. 

How did being bilingual and having grown up on both sides of the border shape your views? 

I speak Spanish well enough to know the Mexicans with chain saws in the backs of their pickups are palm-tree trimmers, not beheaders. 

Any ideas how we can move the immigration debate in a more reasoned direction? 

Idea Number One: Unauthorized immigrants and Tea Party devotees should routinely pound down a few cool ones together. Idea Number Two: Ban politicians from such gatherings. 

Terry Greene Sterling will be at Changing Hands Bookstore, 6428 South McClintock Drive in Tempe, at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 29. For more information about her book, go to