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THE UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT EXPERIENCE


The story of Anita—a Mexican-born woman who crossed the U.S. border, started a family with her American husband, and is now separated from her loved ones—reflects the experiences of millions. While many Mexicans have come to the U.S. throughout history, the 2001 Patriot Act, passed to prevent terrorism after the 9/11 attacks, changed the United States’ approach to immigration. During the years of the play (2008-2016), families on both sides of the border were severely affected by restrictive immigration policies.


U.S. BORDER WITH MEXICO: DAILY ENTRIES AT MAJOR CHECKPOINTS IN 2018 This map shows average daily totals of people entering the U.S. from Mexico by car, bus, or foot.


WHO DECIDES WHO CAN ENTER?


Whether they seek refuge from violence, better economic opportunities, or just the ability to live with their families, undocumented immigrants are subject to the changing priorities of presidents and their administrations. 72 Miles to Go... is set during the Bush and Obama years and ends just prior to Trump’s election. During the second term of George W. Bush (2004–2008), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) cracked down on border control, increased deportations, and began incarcerating captured immigrants in detention centers. The total number of deportations under Barack Obama (2009– 2016), though significant, was half the amount of each of the previous presidential administrations. Obama tried to focus enforcement efforts on undocumented immigrants with criminal records, turning away from workplace raids and the deportation of undocumented children or people who arrived as children.


WHO CROSSES THE BORDER?


The number of Mexicans coming to the U.S. rose steadily in the 20th century, especially after the 1980s. Ironically, the events of the play occur at a time of decreased Mexican immigration


16 ROUNDABOUT THEATRE COMPANY


to the U.S.—a result of improving conditions in Mexico, crackdowns on illegal immigrants, and the 2008 financial slowdown. The annual number of Mexicans either illegally crossing the border or violating visas went down from about 525,000 in 2004 to under 100,000 in 2010. Meanwhile, more border crossers were coming from Central American countries such as Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala to escape gang violence.


HOW DO YOU GET ACROSS?


As the U.S. tightened control on the U.S.–Mexico border, an illegal smuggling industry grew. Most people trying to cross the border hire “coyotes”—often U.S. citizens of Hispanic descent— to drive, feed, and guide them through checkpoints and deliver them to “stash houses,” where they’re hidden from the police. In 2015, the typical rate was $800 to be smuggled from a Mexican border city, to a U.S. city near the southern border and twice that amount to go to large cities like Phoenix and Houston. But trusting a stranger exposes border crossers to many risks, including being turned in, held for ransom, robbed, or sexually assaulted.


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