Where do you ‘belong’ when you’re child of an illegal immigrant? Shanthi Sekaran’s second novel, Lucky Boy, imagines the fate of a child without legal status who is torn between two families.
Baby Ignacio is loved by two mothers. Soli, an 18-year-old illegal immigrant in the U.S., gives birth to Ignacio in California after a long and traumatic journey from her home town in Mexico. Kavya, an American-Indian, desperately wants a child of her own. When Soli is arrested and placed in an immigrant detention centre, Kavya takes Ignacio into her care. Finally she can be the doting mother she has always longed to be. Yet the future is uncertain, and Soli won’t give up her child without a fight.
Families torn apart
In Lucky Boy, author Shanthi Sekaran shows us the devastating impact of U.S. immigration policies on parents who face separation from their American-born children. We see the life of an illegal immigrant through the eyes of a mother, one who – like all of us – struggles to decide how to give her baby the life he deserves.
Shanthi was inspired to write the novel after hearing about a similar case in 2011. “I couldn’t get the story out of my head. I wanted to get inside it and know the thoughts and motivations of everyone involved,” she explained.
Interweaving her own experiences, Shanthi introduces us to a ‘suddenly single mum’ who must struggle to put food on the table and pay rent while always staying invisible. The home she left behind is a dusty shell; there is no work, no young people, no schools. She has nothing to return to.
Meticulous research and explosive issues
The research for the book was a huge undertaking. Shanthi said: “I interviewed immigration lawyers, immigrant advocates, trained with a detention advocacy group, read the testimonies of undocumented immigrants, read countless documents on immigration policy, spoke with a psychologist who works with the undocumented, and read reports on detention and family law. I also interviewed undocumented immigrants who’d crossed the border.”
While the events are set on U.S. soil, the same situation occurs on our own shores. In February, a mum-of-two – married to a British man for 27 years – was forcibly removed from the UK because she spent too long in Singapore caring for her dying parents.
After being deported, Irene Clennell told the Guardian, “The authorities have shown their willingness to treat foreign-born people as second class citizens, no matter how integrated they are, and worse, treat us like criminals.”
“Above all, I would appeal to all those who have made ‘migrant’ a term of abuse, to think about the human cost of their actions. Wanting to build a life and a family, and to be around people and places that you love, is not a crime.”
Whatever your views on immigration, it’s increasingly hard not to empathise with the on-going ordeal of people in such vulnerable circumstances.
Although the novel’s resolution feels just – any other ending would have been too heart-breaking – it’s difficult not to despair at a legal system that could ever allow such a tragic situation to arise.