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The Secret Life of the U.S.-Mexico Border

by Tim Gaynor

Pub Date: March 17th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-312-36671-1
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

An enthusiastic journalistic examination of the U.S.-Mexico border, a turbulent mix of illegal immigration, drug smuggling, corruption and violence.

Reuters reporter Gaynor jumps headfirst into his first book, describing his walk across the border into Arizona equipped as a typical Mexican migrant would be. After two days, exhausted and blistered, he gave up and flagged down a border-patrol truck. The author constructs his text as a series of interviews with immigrants, drug dealers and law enforcers both professional and informal. He often accompanied his subjects as they went about their business. He suggests that the recent explosion of drug-related violence in Mexico shows that the cartels are under increasing pressure at home. This pressure, coupled with the appeal of the several thousand dollars each Mexican pays to cross the border, has fostered their move into the illegal-immigration business. The author makes no secret of his admiration for dedicated border agents, resolute Mexican migrants and even low-level drug smugglers struggling to make a living. He shows modest sympathy for anti-immigrant vigilantes (remarkably nonviolent in his depiction); he dislikes corrupt officials, bandits and murderous drug traffickers. He paints entertaining portraits of border agents at work: elite Special Forces units in their helicopters, dazzling high-tech drones that will soon patrol the immense fence under construction and equally admirable Native American patrollers whose brilliant tracking skills nab border crossers when all else fails. However, Gaynor fails to answer the essential question: Does any of it work? Readers searching for an analysis of greater issues will be disappointed.

Essentially a series of magazine articles—enjoyable but nowhere near as thought-provoking as Lee Morgan’s more opinionated, cynical account of border law enforcement, The Reaper’s Line (2006).