A Mexican-American student of international relations becomes a United States Border Patrol agent to learn what he can’t in the classroom.
Cantú is a talented writer who knows where to find great material, even as he risks losing his soul in the process. His Mexican mother had worked as a ranger in West Texas, and he had an affinity for the region that spurred his departure from academic life to learn firsthand about patrolling the border and determining the fates of the Mexicans who dared to cross it. Some were selling drugs, and others just wanted a better life; some had to work with a drug cartel in order to finance their escape. The author was by all accounts a good agent for some five years, upholding the law without brutalizing those he captured for deportation, as some agents did. But he feared what the experience was doing to him. He had trouble sleeping and suffered disturbing dreams, and he felt he was becoming desensitized. His mother warned him, “we learn violence by watching others, by seeing it enshrined in institutions. Then, even without our choosing it, it begins to seem normal to us, it even becomes part of who we are.” Cantú left the field for a desk job and became more reflective and more disturbed; eventually, he returned to scholarship with a research grant. But then a man he knew and liked through a daily coffee shop connection ran afoul of the border authorities after returning to Mexico to visit his dying mother and trying to return to his home and family. His plight and the author’s involvement in it, perhaps an attempt to find personal redemption, puts a human face on the issue and gives it a fresh, urgent perspective. “There are thousands of people just like him, thousands of cases, thousands of families,” writes Cantú, who knows the part he played in keeping out so many in similar situations.
A devastating narrative of the very real human effects of depersonalized policy.