The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches From the Border
“It was a curious detour for the young college graduate,” said Gabriel Thompson in the San Francisco Chronicle. In 2008, 23-year-old Francisco Cantú joined the U.S. Border Patrol and began policing the Mexican border in Arizona and New Mexico. A small number of the people he apprehended over the following year were drug smugglers, but most were men, women, and children seeking to escape violence and poverty. Cantú, the grandson of a Mexican immigrant, had reasoned that he could be helpful to migrants caught trying to cross, offering them a sympathetic ear and his fluency in Spanish. Eventually, though, the job gave him nightmares, inspiring a plainspoken memoir that “whips across your face like a sandstorm.”
“If you had to be caught sneaking across la linea, Cantú is the agent you’d want to meet,” said Stephanie Elizondo Griest in TexasObserver.org. The former international relations major always carried water for detainees, and he actually gave one of them the shirt off his back. He never did stop other agents from pissing on and otherwise destroying belongings left behind by migrants, and the job’s weight grew even heavier when he was promoted to desk work and began receiving field photos of dead bodies and worse. To his credit, he highlights the border operation’s harsh impact on migrants without demonizing the agents who do the work, said Sam Quinones in The Boston Globe. He neglects to mention, though, that Mexico bears blame, too, having allowed the widespread lawlessness that prompts many of its citizens to risk breaking U.S. law.
In a final section, Cantú experiences a reckoning, said Mark Athitakis in the Los Angeles Times. Having quit the Border Patrol, he’s attending graduate school and working part-time as a barista when one of his Mexican co-workers is caught trying to re-enter the U.S. after visiting an ailing parent. It’s frustrating that Cantú says he previously hadn’t fully considered what happened to detainees after agents caught them, but then, this is not a policy book. It is, at heart, “a lament for what a broken immigration system does to families.” ■