How to write a compelling illegal alien sob story
The New York Times had a very compelling story about an illegal alien who came to the US and immediately gave birth to a sickly baby who died. The problem with the story was that the Times implausibly tied the death of the baby to the lack of immediate amnesty for illegal aliens, and that implausibility made for a weak storyline. Since we've seen so many of these kinds of articles, I thought I'd provide some tips on how to write a better one.
His mother was still in McAllen, a town 10 miles from the Texas-Mexico border — but hundreds of miles and more than an hour’s flight from where her son was, with me, in Houston. She had slogged through coyote-plagued deserts, her seven-months-pregnant belly buoyant in the muddy waters of the Rio Grande. She carried her 4-year-old daughter on her hip as the waters lapped against her, mindful of the copperhead snakes, trudging her way to the promised land: “Tejas.”
Now THAT's quality writing! "Coyote plagued" deserts, buoyant pregnant belly in muddy waters, copperhead snakes, it's like a cross between an Indiana Jones and Jennifer Lopez movie!
She had fled, she told me, an abusive husband and vicious gangs, both of whom had vowed to rape and murder her and her children. Against all odds, she escaped the drug lords, the arms traffickers and that wasteland. And so her baby had been born on the “right” side of the border.
Now here's where the problem starts. Good writing enables to the reader to engage in "suspension of disbelief", but too many false elements makes the story difficult to believe. There are more than 2,400 towns in Mexico on over 760,000 square miles, but the writer wants us to believe that the illegal momma couldn't escape her evil husband and gangs in any of them, or go to the authorities for help, or go to any other Spanish speaking country. This problem with "suspension of disbelief" makes it looks like she came to America merely to get free medical care.
The story would be more plausible if the writer described how she went from town to town, always finding herself dogged by the drug gangs, and only then decided to come to America. "She didn't want to cross illegally, but had no choice, for in every new town she fled to, her husband Gutierrez was there, the rage in his eyes as bright as red hot chili peppers. Gutierrez spoke in a low, gravelly Sergio Leone villain's voice, 'Mujer, you cannot escape me!'. Everywhere she went, he was always two steps ahead, waiting for her, his new machete already dripping with the blood of innocent coffee bean workers."
Now that's compelling!
Now back to the story:
Shortly after birth, however, [her son] was found to have hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which holds a bleak prognosis. Our flight medical evacuation team brought him to our world-renowned hospital in Houston for evaluation. An extensive work-up revealed that he had a minimal chance of survival.
This part of the story is a big problem. It increases the sympathy for the sick child in one way, but also decreases it in another because readers will realize that they, the taxpayers, are footing the bill for all these expensive evaluations and hospital care. It would have been better to write this part differently:
I was worried sick about my son, but worried even more about sticking the fine, caring American people with the bill for his medical care. But then I suddenly remembered what we had miraculously found in the desert on the body that had been stripped clean by predator eagles and snapping crocodiles, four bars of gold I had rescued from a pit of angry copperhead snakes and treacherous quicksand, and knew I could take financial responsibility for my little one.
That's called a happy coincidence. That happens all the time in literary fiction! Back to our story:
[her son could get medical help] — on the condition that his mother would be alongside him, learning how to care for his illness. But his mother decided not to come. The baby’s mother was petrified to come to Houston. Although she was technically within United States borders, she would still have to navigate an intricate web of checkpoints for safe passage to Houston. She would risk deportation and separation from her children.
What would be more compelling would be a long distance Thelma and Louise-like chase scene, where right wing militias with links to Ted Cruz and Fox News, who selfishly want to reserve citizenship only for Americans, dog her every step, preventing her from getting to her child. And then, right before the funeral, the authorities finally catch up to her, and drag her away as she sobs, attempting to hold on to the coffin as she is dragged away to deportation, forever separated from her loved one. As she sits in a small, cruel cage originally meant for stray terriers and unwanted chihuahuas, she weeps as she realizes all she has left to remember him now are the scrapings of wood beneath her lacquered nails.
Now that's compelling writing!
Unfortunately, we'll never know the true story, of course. It seems extremely likely she came to America to get free health care and to create an instant anchor baby. The story about a vengeful father and gangs chasing her across the breadth and width of Mexico sounds as false as a Jeb Bush speech at CPAC. She had no compelling reason to come to America, except to get the taxpayer to pay for her and her children for their rest of their lives. For all we know she may have been involved in one of the very common cross border criminal trades, such as drugs or prostitution. She certainly wasn't a trained professional coming here to contribute in any meaningful way.
I feel sorry for her loss, but feel a lot of scorn for her too for how she attempted to treat the American people as suckers. Most of my scorn, of course, is reserved for the New York Times, which is now using dead babies as their latest poster board in their propaganda campaign for mass amnesty for illegal aliens.
Pedro Gonzales is the editor of Newsmachete.com, the conservative news site.