Annual Winter Book Club

Featured Book 


The 2011-2012 TRES Winter Book Club's featured book is Safe Haven?: A History of Refugees in America by David W. Haines.

Safe Haven book cover

The notion of America as land of refuge is vital to American civic consciousness yet over the past seventy years the country has had a complicated and fickle relationship with its refugee populations. Attitudes and policies toward refugees from the government, voluntary organizations, and the general public have ranged from acceptance to rejection; from well-wrought program efforts to botched ones.

Drawing on a wide range of contemporary and historical material, and based on the author’s nearly three-decade experience in refugee research and policy, Safe Haven? provides an integrated portrait of this crucial component of American immigration—and of American engagement with the world. Covering nearly a century of immigration history, Haines shows how refugees, their supporters and detractors continue to struggle with national identities and the effect this struggle has had on American institutions and attitudes.

More details on the 2011-2012 Winter Book Club coming soon! Sign up for the TRES e-list for event details. Purchase your copy of Safe Haven? in the meantime. $27.50 and FREE shipping on All royalties from this book are donated to organizations serving refugees.



This books is a must for anybody interested in the history of refugees in America, specifically how they were treated, how patterns of migration evolved and how it does and will continue to shape the political future of the country. A highly recommended read. -David Simpson, member

Haines brings his long personal history with refugees dating to the Vietnam War era together with his skills and knowledge from academia and government service to weave a historical and contemporary tapestry of refugee life in America that is both personal and analytic. - Bill Frelick, Refugee Program Director, Human Rights Watch

Haines demonstrates that the moral significance of particular groups of refugees is as much tempered by political and ethnic concerns as by universal principles. He shows us how truly complex the experiences and identities of refugees are, and evaluates decades of programs to receive and assimilate refugees into the US. Safe Haven? is essential reading for anyone studying or working with refugees int eh U.S. - Fred Conway, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Sand Diego State University.

Past TRES Featured Books

REFUGE SANDWICH: Stories of Exile and Asylum

 "Showler knows what he is talking about. He is a former immigration lawyer, Refugee Board member, Chairperson of the Immigration and Refugee Board and now teaches refugee Law at the University of Ottawa. But it is not the credentials that compel, it is the stories. Each of the thirteen stories stands on its own as a work of fiction. They cover the terrain where refugees, often misinformed and misguided, meet Canada's refugee law and immigration bureaucracy. The horror of human rights abuses lies in the background of most of the tales: the violence of civil wars and racial hatred, the residues of genocide, the oppression of totalitarian states, yet the foreground is occupied by real and interesting characters who are frightened, angry, inspired, courageous, confused, obtuse, foolish and wise. Each claimant has their story to tell but the telling is rarely straightforward. Invariably, there are complications, confusions and surprises.
The central theme of the book is that it is difficult, sometimes impossibly difficult, to make consistently reliable asylum decisions when a mixed flow of 25,000 genuine and non-genuine claimants pours into Canada every year. The core of the difficulties lies in the lack of documentary evidence, the inability of many genuine claimants to tell their story, the high volume of claims and the unhappy consequences of an incorrect decision. It is a burden shared by the refugee claimant and the refugee decision maker.

What the stories say implicitly, the Afterword says explicitly. The fiction/nonfiction format is unique and possibly risky. The nonfiction, by far the shorter part of the book, gives a clear summary description of Canada's asylum system and, presumably, having read the stories, the reader will be eager for some historical and legal framework to comprehend the asylum process. The author's criticisms appear balanced. He argues that Canada's asylum system is the best in the world and, at the same time, not good enough. The most powerful criticisms are saved for the politicians who have weakened the IRB with patronage appointments although he is careful not to tar all of the Board members with the same brush, insisting that the majority of members do a difficult job very well. However the most searing criticisms of indifferent Board members, lawyers and politicians are contained within the stories themselves.

This book comes at an important time. Television and newspapers, both in Canada and abroad, are filled with refugee-related stories: threatened deportations, church sponsored sanctuary, cross-border smuggling, potential links to security threats and terrorism. Even before September 11, 2001, the word "refugee" had come to evoke presumptions about immigration scams and phoney refugees. Many of the criticisms of Canada's asylum system have been based on a lack of understanding of the refugee experience and the presumption that there are quick and easy solutions to the high volume of refugee claims. This is the first authoritative book to expose those criticisms for what they are: shallow and uninformed. Refugee Sandwich does not provide all of the answers but it humanizes the asylum process and reminds us who refugees are and why they need protection.

This is both a good book and an important book. The stories are a great read and yet they really do throw open the doors to the hearing rooms of the [Canadian] Immigration and Refugee Board. The world of asylum seeking is a vivid and painful one and these stories have managed to capture all of that with humour, irreverence and most of all, an indelible truth." - Graham Thompson

SEEKING REFUGE: Central American Migration to Mexico, The United States, and Canada

The political upheaval in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala had a devastating human toll at the end of the twentieth century. A quarter of a million people died during the period 1974-1996. Many of those who survived the wars chose temporary refuge in neighboring countries such as Honduras and Costa Rica. Others traveled far north, to Mexico, the United States, and Canada in search of safety. Over two million of those who fled Central America during this period settled in these three countries.

In this incisive book, María Cristina García tells the story of that migration and how domestic and foreign policy interests shaped the asylum policies of Mexico, the United States, and Canada. She describes the experiences of the individuals and non-governmental organizations—primarily church groups and human rights organizations—that responded to the refugee crisis, and worked within and across borders to shape refugee policy. These transnational advocacy networks collected testimonies, documented the abuses of states, re-framed national debates about immigration, pressed for changes in policy, and ultimately provided a voice for the displaced.

García concludes by addressing the legacies of the Central American refugee crisis, especially recent attempts to coordinate a regional response to the unique problems presented by immigrants and refugees—and the challenges of coordinating such a regional response in the post-9/11 era.                            

Maria Cristina Garcia was born in Havana, Cuba and raised largely in the United States and Puerto Rico. She received her A.B. from Georgetown University and her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. She is now Professor of History at Cornell University, where she teaches courses on immigration history, refugees, and Latino Studies. She is the author of Havana USA: Cuban Exiles and Cuban Americans in South Florida and Seeking Refuge: Central American migration to Mexico, the United States, and Canada, as well as numerous articles on Latinos in the United States. She is currently writing a book on refugee policy in the U.S. since the end of the Cold war.

Asylum Denied: A Refugee's Struggle For Safety In America 

Asylum Denied is the gripping story of political refugee David Ngaruri Kenney’s harrowing odyssey through the Kafkaesque world of immigration processing in the United States. While living in his native Kenya, Kenney led a boycott to protest his government’s treatment of his fellow farmers. He was subsequently arrested by the Kenyan government and taken into the forest to be executed. This book, written by Kenney and his lawyer Philip G. Schrag from Kenney’s perspective, tells of his near-murder, imprisonment, and torture in Kenya; his remarkable escape to the United States; and the obstacle course of ordeals and proceedings he faced as U.S. government agencies sought to deport him to

Kenya. A story of courage, love, perseverance, and legal strategy, Asylum Denied brings to life the human costs associated with our immigration laws and suggests policy reforms that are desperately needed to help other victims of human rights violations.

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"This is a fabulous booka love story, a law story, a struggle against death, a battle for justice, and much more. I urge you to read it." Bruch Ackerman, Yale University

"In Asylum Denied, David Kenney and Philip Schrag bring us a deeper understanding of the vagaries of our asylum process. What society wouldn't be enriched by such stoic, courageous, and principled strivers as Kenney? The more we learn of the lives and yearnings of such people the closer we will be to an asylum process worthy of our values."       Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman, Senate Judiciary Commitee

"From the horror of political persecution half a world away to the dealth of a thousand bureaucratic cuts here at home, Asylum Denied is a riveting microcosm of a story that has touched-and scarred-countless victims of mankind's cruelty. And for sheer perseverance under impossible circumstances, Sisyphus could take a lesson form this tale." Jeff Greenfield, Senior Political Correspondent, CBS Evening News

Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees

Traveling for nearly two years and across four continents, Caroline Moorehead takes readers on a journey to understand why millions of people are forced to abandon their homes, possessions, and families in order to find a place where they may, quite literally, be allowed to live. Moorehead's experience living and working with refugees puts a human face on the news, providing unforgettable portraits of the refugees she meets in Cairo, Guinea, Sicily, Lebanon, England, Australia, Finland, and at the U.S.-Mexico border. Human Cargo changes our understanding of what it means to have and lose a place in the world, and reveals how the refugee "problem" is on a par with global crises such as terrorism and world hunger.   

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"Unflinching in her reportage, Moorehead purposefully illuminates the suffering endured by refugees and all the travesties, paradoxes, and tragedies engendered by the failure to act on their behalf." Booklist (starred review)

"Humane and touching . . . Moorehead puts a human face on this determined population." The Star-Ledger (Newark)


Recommended for Young Readers 

 Mai Ya's Long Journey

This is the true story of Mai Ya, a young Laotian girl born in a Thai refugee camp after her parents were forced to flee their country in the Vietnam War. The story documents her journey from the camp to America, where Mai Ya is faced with a new challenge: balancing her heritage with her newly adopted culture. A book for younger readers.

Mai Ya’s Long Journey by Sheila Cohen is the first book in the new Wisconsin Historical Society Press Badger Biography series designed for upper elementary and middle-school readers that explores the stories of Wisconsin people. Mai Ya’s Long Journey relates the personal story of Mai Ya Xiong and her family. Their journey from the Ban Vinai refugee camp in Thailand to a new life in Madison, Wisconsin, is extraordinary, yet typical of the stories of the two hundred thousand Hmong people who now live in the United States and who struggle to adjust to American society while maintaining their own culture as a free people. The author, who has known Mai Ya since she was a student in her seventh-grade ESL (English as a Second Language) class, brings her personal perspective to this compelling story.

Join the Book Club

It's another fun social way to learn about refugee issues. 

1)  Send us an e-mail with 'book club' in the subject box to receive book club activity updates.

2)  Get the feature book and start reading! Read at your own pace or follow the reading trail.

3)  Participate in the online discussion forum on TRES group.  

If you're not already, become an member by creating a profile, then click on the group link we provided here and join our group. Sign up for Idealist here.

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We end each featured book club with a dinner discussion in the Washington, DC area.