The Man With A Broken Leg

New wave of migrants puts US and other countries to the test

The wave of Middle Eastern migrants fleeing poverty and despair on the other side of the world is a defining moment in America’s history and a test of our society.

By Sarah L. Vowell

January 7, 2014 — 11:25pm

MUSTARD, TENN. — My husband, Mike, and I were in a hotel room in Memphis, Tenn., on June 28, 1990, when a little girl called out my name and a man came into our room.

The man apologized for barging in on Mike, but we were all so caught up in the drama and excitement of that day that we didn’t care. We didn’t know about the man with a broken leg or the man named Tony who had been stabbed to death the week before. But we didn’t want any of it. We were both happy to be at the hotel on the hottest night of the year in what was a record-breaking, record-breaking heat wave in Tennessee. We were on a honeymoon.

The man with a broken leg and the man named Tony.

Mike and I were on our honeymoon and we were sitting on a king-sized bed and the man with a broken leg sat in the chair. What was happening? We couldn’t really understand it. We were thrilled the man with a broken leg could come into our hotel room and sit in our bed and, yes, we knew he had a broken leg (he looked like the Incredible Hulk) but we didn’t care. We were happy.

The man with a broken leg had arrived in the U.S. from El Salvador nine days earlier. Mike and I had met him when he was in the United States for the summer. He was part of Mike’s work. Mike had been on a work visa in the United States since 1987 but had never had a visa to stay on a permanent basis. When he was a child in El Salvador, his family had to flee from civil war. He didn’t like the United States and his visa status was revoked. He was denied asylum.

The man with a broken leg arrived in the country after a lengthy application process that was denied without explanation or review.

Over the next two years, he

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