The Dispossessed

The Dispossessed:A Story of Asylum and the US-Mexican Border and Beyond

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The first comprehensive, in-depth book on the Trump administration’s assault on asylum protections. The first book to take on the inhumane debacle of family separations. The first book to take stock of the massive changes in US refugee policy.

Arnovis couldn’t stay in El Salvador. If he didn’t leave, a local gangster promised that his family would dress in mourning, that he would wake up with flies in his mouth. “It was like a bomb exploded in my life,” Arnovis said.
The Dispossessed tells the story of a twenty-four-year-old Salvadoran man, Arnovis, whose family’s search for safety shows how the United States - in concert with other Western nations - has gutted asylum protections for the world’s most vulnerable. Crisscrossing the border and Central America, John Washington traces one man’s quest for asylum. Arnovis is separated from his daughter by US Border Patrol agents and struggles to find security after being repeatedly deported to a gang-ruled community in El Salvador, traumatic experiences relayed by Washington with vivid intensity.

Adding historical, literary, and current political context to the discussion of migration today, Washington tells the history of asylum law and practice through ages to the present day. Packed with information and reflection, The Dispossessed is more than a human portrait of those who cross borders - it is an urgent and persuasive case for sharing the country we call home.


  • In an era of massive and unprecedented human migration, John Washington documents in his poignant book, The Dispossessed: A Story of Asylum at the US-Mexico Border and Beyond, how the poverty and violence powerful nations inflict on poor countries is a major reason so many flee their lives and families. Offering expansive historical analysis of how ancient religions, cultures, and societies understood the imperative of welcoming the outsider, particularly those seeking safety from harm or death, and contrasting it with our current world order, Washington has written one of the most important books of our time on one of the most dire systematic injustices on our planet. I read this book in one sitting because I simply couldn’t put it down.

    Jeremy Scahill, author of Dirty Wars
  • John Washington delivers an absorbing, harrowing, and deeply moving reportage that renders the most thorough and critical assessment of the U.S. asylum system that I have ever read.

    Todd Miller, author of Empire of Borders
  • John is a rarity in the world of Central American migration. He travels with humility and seeks to understand, not to reaffirm his hypotheses. He keeps at it, he's been doing it for years, he doesn't parachute into tragedy. When he asks questions, he seeks answers. If there's an American should say something about asylum, it is him. John is a Caronte, he crosses the river and understands both sides, which is why this book should be read, because there are few people who understand this story's complexity. I've been covering migration in Central America, Mexico, and the United States for 13 years, and I can say with complete conviction: read this book--someone wrote it who has a lot to tell, and has told it masterfully.

    Nobody would have read my book in the United States if it weren't for John. Ten years ago he understood that I had something to say about migration. He understood a decade ago something that I didn't. John is patient, meticulous, obsessive. First he understands--like few do--and then he writes. This is a book from someone who has been understanding for a long time, and now that he's come to write this book, he's done so with mastery, with patience, with humility, and without cliché. This book was written by a true expert about a topic that many pretend to understand

    Óscar Martinez, author of The Beast