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For all the political debate that surrounds them, it remains rare for undocumented Americans to share their own stories in full. In this nearly decade-long feat of reporting, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio’s book, now a National Book Award finalist, shows the complex nature of undocumented immigrants’ lives. They are the workers hired by the federal government to clean up after 9/11; the adulterous men struggling to repress their anger; the widow whose late husband died of cancer after being refused treatment because of his lack of citizenship, who now seeks joy through nights out dancing that she never had when she was younger. And there is also the author herself, a DACA recipient who fears how deeply her parents’ years long absence from her childhood damaged her mental health—an effect that will indisputably be felt by many of those more recently separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

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