Contemporary Relevance

The Mexican flag in the form of a fingerprint

Immigration Policies Then and Now


This novel and it’s characters are very much at the mercy of their placement in time and space. This novel is set in the beginning the Obama era in the United States, and the characters experience much of the turmoil and xenophobia that decade held. Entering a post 9/11 America, the state of surveillance and priorities for national security is most intimately felt by those non-citizens and immigrants that are represented in Herniquez’s novel. The most notable policy change that occurs  is the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in reaction to 9/11. This major reorganization in the Department of Defense represented an increase in border control and immigration law enforcement. It marked significant growth in resource allocation to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which today has an annual budget of six billion.

Privacy in particular within the United States is first stripped from non citizens. The U.S Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology program was established in 2003 and mandates collection of fingerprints and photographs for all non-citizens entering the country. The characters in this novel are experiencing what is just the beginning of a new state of immigration norms

Immigration has always been a controversial topic in politics, but is especially so under the current administration. Immigration policies are constantly changing and reforming, and today they are different than they were at the time of the novel’s release.

There are currently two major processes for legal immigration into the United States. These include the green card and the visa. A green card grants an immigrant permanent residence in the country, while a visa grants temporary residence for circumstances such as school and employment. Immigrants without proper paperwork can be detained by the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Agency, also known as ICE.

The characters in the novel are just entering a post nine eleven era in which ICE is just being implemented. In 2018, more than 42,000 people were taken into custody by ICE. Detainment is a controversial topic in the United States because the detainment centers immigrants are held in are unclean and the conditions are inhumane.

Additionally, one of the most well-known immigration debates today is the issues surrounding the United States-Mexican border, which is directly related to the migrations in the book as this is the path the Riveras took to enter the United States. Under the Trump administration there has been increasing pressure to put up a wall at the border in efforts to control immigration, which even included a government shutdown initiated by President Trump in pursuit of funding for the wall.

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Delaware Immigration History


In the past, Delaware was not a very common place for immigrants to wind up. The first to immigrate to this area were the Dutch and Swedish in the 17th century, and the Scottish, Irish, and English soon followed. A majority of the travelers settled in New Castle and worked along the canal as construction workers, saloon keepers, painters, and woodworkers. Come the 20th century, Delaware reached its peak proportion of immigrants living among Delaware residents; immigrants were just under 9 percent of the total Delaware population.

Present day, a large portion of the immigrants here in Delaware are Hispanic, most of them from Mexico. In 2008 a study was conducted that showed that more than 50 percent of Hispanic families in Kent and Sussex County were not making enough money to provide for their family, and 50 percent of employed Hispanics were deficient in their English-speaking abilities. It was also shown that majority of the Hispanics in Delaware wanted job training and English classes to take but they were not receiving these trainings. Over time, things have begun to slightly look up for immigrants in Delaware; they are beginning to obtain better jobs such as in health care/social assistance fields, educational services, and finance and insurance.

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Delaware Immigration Statistics


Today, nearly 10 percent of Delaware’s population are immigrants, while 7 percent of Delaware’s total population are U.S citizens with one immigrant parent. 18.2 percent of immigrants in the United States migrated from Mexico, 7.3 percent came from India, 4.5 percent came from China, and 4.3 percent came from the Philippines. Nearly half of the immigrant population in Delaware have become naturalized as of 2015. Around 40 percent of Delaware’s immigrant population holds a college degree, higher than the total immigrant population of the United States, in which only 30 percent hold college degrees. 81.1 percent of Delaware immigrants report that they can speak English well. 11 percent of Delaware’s immigrants are business owners.

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The Book of Unknown Americans Homepage

Sarra Sundstrom, Aeon Scott, Jordan Tauber, & Jenny Evans, 2019

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