by Fran Withrow
“The Line Becomes a River” is an exquisite book about a heart-wrenching and timely subject. It is not merely an eye-opening description of a Border Patrol agent’s life, but also a treatise about integrity, compassion, and one’s own moral compass. This thought-provoking book is remarkable for its spare, poetic language and its insights into the unending tragedy along our border with Mexico.
Cantu is a United States citizen with Mexican heritage. He decides to join the Border Patrol to help him understand immigration, and is immediately thrown into the task of retrieving dead bodies from the desert and returning survivors to detention, as well as destroying everything that might support the migrants on their journey. (Think basic necessities like food supplies and water. What a waste.)
After observing the suffering of migrants and his response as a Border Patrol agent, Cantu is plagued by nightmares. His mother, a former park ranger, can tell he is conflicted. “The government took my passion and bent it to its own purpose,” she tells her son. “I don’t want that for you.” She knows a job like his can steal one’s soul.
Cantu continues to wrestle with the morality of what he is doing for four years, knowing that the majority of crossers are not drug runners but people trying to escape the horrors of Mexico’s most murderous cities. Between 2000 and 2016, for example, the Border Patrol reported over six thousand deaths of people trying to cross. Can you imagine how horrendous life must be for you to leave your home and risk traveling across such a deadly desert? Yet murder, kidnapping, and extortion are so rampant in many cities that people feel they have no other option. The peril is real. And so is the desperation.
Even after leaving the Border Patrol, Cantu remains haunted by his dreams and profoundly affected by what he has seen. But the plight of migrants follows him when his co-worker, Jose, an illegal immigrant who has lived quietly in the U.S. for thirty years, risks everything to cross the border and say goodbye to his dying mother. Where is the justice for people like Jose and their families? This part of the story is difficult to read. Jose’s children are U.S. citizens. His wife is here, and he has lived here most of his life. What can he do? He is well aware of the danger of crossing: death in the desert, imprisonment, deportation. How many families are torn apart because of the border? And are Border Patrol agents the answer? If not, what is?
This is a book you will carry with you after turning the last page. It is a courageous, hauntingly written reflection that never mentions a border wall. Cantu never speaks about Trump. But he offers hope that someday the border will become just a blurred and fluid line, the river not a boundary but a landmark, a place where Mexicans and Americans are not “the other,” but are, in fact, all one and the same.
“The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border”
by Francisco Cantu