The Line Becomes A Riverby Published 06 Feb 2018
|The Line Becomes A River.pdf|
For Francisco Cantú, the border is in the blood: his mother, a park ranger and daughter of a Mexican immigrant, raised him in the scrublands of the Southwest. Haunted by the landscape of his youth, Cantú joins the Border Patrol. He and his partners are posted to remote regions crisscrossed by drug routes and smuggling corridors, where they learn to track other humans under blistering sun and through frigid nights. They haul in the dead and deliver to detention those they find alive. Cantú tries not to think where the stories go from there. Plagued by nightmares, he abandons the Patrol for civilian life. But when an immigrant friend travels to Mexico to visit his dying mother and does not return, Cantú discovers that the border has migrated with him, and now he must know the whole story. Searing and unforgettable, The Line Becomes a River makes urgent and personal the violence our border wreaks on both sides of the line.
"The Line Becomes A River" Reviews
“There are 690,000 official DACA registrants and the president sent over what amounts to be two and a half times that number, to 1.8 million,” Kelly said. “The difference between (690,000) and 1.8 million were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses, but they didn’t sign up.”Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing to be able to talk about the challenges of immigration without the sort of ignorance and bigotry that is often brought to the discussion? A debate that considers cost and benefits, not just in economic, and political, but in human terms would be a significant step forward. Francisco Cantú, an Arizona native, was a college graduate with an interest in international relations, particularly border issues. He imagined a future in law or the foreign service, but thought he might be best prepared if he had first-hand experience of the border for himself. So he joined the largest police force in the country, the United States Border Patrol (BP). Although it is a police force, the BP re-imagined the agents’ uniforms in a more military style in 2007, the better to reflect what was increasingly seen as a military mission. The outdoors element of the job held particular appeal as his mom had been a National Parks ranger for many years, giving him a taste for nature, particularly the desert.
Immigration experts cite various reasons why people eligible for DACA’s protections do not apply. These include lack of knowledge about the program, a worry that participating will expose them to deportation and an inability to afford registration fees.
“I’m sorry for that characterization. It doesn’t surprise me from Gen. Kelly,” No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois, his party’s chief immigration negotiator, said of the White House staff chief’s remarks. - Washington Post – February 6, 20128 – by Alan Fram | AP
Francisco Cantú – image from Mother Jones – by Beowulf Sheehan
Although The Line Becomes a River is divided into three parts, two of the parts live on one side of a line and the final part lives, and struggles, on another. Cantú writes of his training and early experiences in the BP, where he served as a Border Patrol Agent (BPA) for four years. Much of the work was watching and waiting, responding to tripped sensors, trying to track down those who had crossed, sometimes helping the exhausted, dehydrated, and/or injured, and sometimes finding the remains of failed crossers. Many perish in the attempt. (Don’t even think of trying to cross in the summer.) You learn about methods used by the BP to discourage migrants, and the resulting conflicts one might have about employing methods that could be life-threatening.
You will get some analysis on how the increase in US crackdowns at the border has pushed the crossing economy into the hands of drug cartels. You will also learn some of the nuances of what various maimings by cartel operatives are intended to signal, pick up some information on how much of the US side of the border is used and sometimes controlled by coyotes and their employers, feel the eyes on your back as Cantú tells about the impressive cartel intelligence network in place, on both sides of the border, to manage the crossings, and see how migrants are often held for ransom by coyotes, with payments demanded of terrified relations, sometimes even when the extortionists did not have the crosser.
Image from Wired Magazine
The third part of the book begins after Cantú has left the BP. A couple of years in, working as a barista in a local shopping center, he is friends with Jose Martinez, a fellow who does much of the cleaning there, and who shares breakfast with Cantú most days. Martinez is the most reliable, and the best worker in the place, according to the owner. Lovely wife, three kids, church-goer, attentive father, pillar-of-the-community sort. When he learns that his mother is in her last days he returns home to see her off. Problem is, mom is doing her crossing over from the more southerly territory of the great state of Mexico. And, despite his many years in the USA, despite his work ethic, despite his enviable character, Jose was, and is, an illegal immigrant, and now has to deal with cartel-organized coyotes to find his way back home, and the US border machinery once he crosses. The trials of this effort, the support Jose receives from the community, the assistance Cantú offers Jose and his family, the details of what happens when an illegal is caught, all combine to make this a very personal, educational, and moving story.
Banner from FC’s site
Cantú adds in dashes of regional history pertaining to the establishment and marking of the border, and offers occasional writing about the often frightening beauty of the land.
This is not a political screed. Cantú is attempting to look past the rhetoric to the on-the-ground details of the crossing problem. There is a cost to the BPAs, as well as to those they apprehend. Cantú’s mother worries that his soul will become deformed by containment within a government structure, that his idealism will be used by the Border Patrol in ways he might not care for. The cost to the crossers and their families is considerable, immediate, and often lifelong.
A view of the U.S.-Mexico border fence on the outskirts of Nogales, Mexico – image from the NPR interview
Cantú intersperses his narrative with recollection of dreams he began having while in the Border Patrol. It may feel like a workshopped lit device, at first, until one learns the basis.
The first sign that the job was taking a toll for me came in the form of those nightmares, of which I tried to describe a few in the book. For years I would just ignore them. Like in any enforcement or military job, part of the training is designed to normalize these intense traumatic, and often violent, experiences that you’re expected to have. In my waking life, I totally did that. I normalized the things I saw, never thought about it. I think the dreams rose up from that pushing-aside/normalizing not-normal happenings. When I started to realize that, and the reason I write about them, is that there was a recurring dream I was always having. I was wearing my teeth out, grinding the enamel off my molars. That was the first time my dream world manifested in my waking life. That was the point at which I had to pay more attention to my dreams. They were shaking me. - from the Mother Jones interview
A Border Patrol vehicle drives in front of a mural in Tecate, Mexico, just beyond a border structure in Tecate, Calif. – image from Nieman Storyboard - by Gregory Bull/Associated Press
There are many moving moments in this book. Cantú talked with NPR’s Steve Inskeep about one woman who had been caught crossing.
I remember sort of bandaging her feet and cleaning her wounds, which is this very, you know, direct, tangible way of helping someone. I think it's almost biblical, in a sense, to clean someone's feet. And I remember her looking down at me just kind of, like, very tenderly and thanking me. And I felt like, "Don't thank me. At the end of the day, I'm taking you back to a cell and I'm sending you on your way to be sent back to this place that you're literally risking your life to flee." And so, yes, it's true that the Border Patrol does good work and rescues people and saves lives, but there's tension there.There is no legislative agenda here. Francisco Cantú does not offer specific solutions to the real questions of how to regulate immigration. It is certainly clear that he is sympathetic to many he encountered, both while wearing a badge, and while pulling shots. But his sympathies, and empathies are shared with all sides. He knows what it is to be a BPA, and is sensitive to the challenges of the job, and to the toll it can take. He is aware of the physical perils police face, having to contend with cartel-based operations, and the emotional cost of constantly having to cope with desperate people. The Line Becomes a River offers a very human face to what is often a very inhuman conversation. Will it change anyone’s mind? I doubt that many who are opposed to immigration will bother reading it. The ideological barrier around fixed perspectives can be far more unbreachable than any physical wall. But for those seeking a human response to a humanitarian crisis, this would be a good place to gain a bit of perspective.
image from KPBS.org
I'll never forget as a Border Patrol agent bringing this guy into my station, part of a group that I apprehended, and I was rolling his fingerprints and putting him into, you know, the database to be shipped back to Mexico. And I remember him just kind of like looking around while I was asking him these formulaic questions. And he's like, "Hey, I know there's a couple hours before the bus comes, is there anything that I can do? Can I take out the trash? Can I clean the cells? I want to show you that I'm here to work."
It changed things for me to have someone in front of me and say that to me. And so those are the kind of things that I carry with me. I think there's nothing as powerful as an individual story, and I think we need to listen to the people who have those stories right now. - from NPR interview
Review posted – February 9, 2018
Publication date – February 6, 2018
Links to the author’s personal and Twitter
-----GQ Magazine - Confessions of a Former Border Patrol Agent
-----Time Magazine - I Was a Border Patrol Agent — Until the Horror Made Me Quit
----- This American Life - Cantú reads from the book - audio
-----Mother Jones - The Best Book on Immigration You Will Read This Year Comes From a Former Border Patrol Agent - by Ian Gordon
-----Brazos Bookstore - No Urge to Look Away: Sara Interviews Author Francisco Cantú - by Sara B – Brazos Marketing Director
-----NPR - Former Agent Says, 'Border Patrol Does Good Work ... But There's Tension There' - by Steve Inskeep
In the station where I worked, we had quite a bit of border fencing — a wall. It was 20-foot-high steel mesh and, you know, guys on the south side found a way to pry open these steel panels and put a hydraulic tire jack underneath and jack them up and lift them high enough to drive cars underneath. And, you know, when that didn't work, they would show up with welders and weld holes just big enough for people to walk through or to crawl through. And so I really think, no matter what obstacle we put at the border, it's going to be subverted. People are going to find a way up, over, under or around it.Item of interest
-----KBPS News - Report Scrutinizes New Border Patrol Punishments - by Adrian Florido and Eliot Spagat / Associated Press
-----NY Times - Border Patrol Gets an All-Terrain Look - article taken from AP
-----Publishers Weekly - February 23, 2018 - Border Patrol Agent-Turned-Author Meets Protests in California - by Jason Boog - sounds to me like the protesters did not bother actually reading the book
March 25, 2018 - Attention grabbing piece, by Azam Ahmed, in the NY Times, Where Fear and Hope Collide: Images From Mexican Border, and Beyond, about an upcoming photo documentary book by John Moore, a staff photographer for Getty Images - Undocumented: Immigration and the Militarization of the United States-Mexico Border. The Times shows many piercing shots. There are more at the publisher's site.
-----June 22, 2018 - NY Times - There’s a Better, Cheaper Way to Handle Immigration - by Sonia Nazario - specifics on how to do immigration control better, with refutation of the usual host of Swamp Thing's lies
-----July 10, 2018 - Rollingstone Magazine - ICE Officers to Asylum Seekers: ‘Don’t You Know That We Hate You People?’ - by Tim Dickinson
Francisco Cantú grew up on the US / Mexican border where his mother, ( a second generation Mexican - American ) was a park ranger. Francisco loved the landscape - the national parks and desert landscapes, and living in close proximity to the border ignited a curiosity in him to learn more about border control. He decided to pursue a degree in border relations, and although his studies provided some insight into the problems, he needed to see how things worked in the real world, and became a field agent with Border Control.
This is Cantú's personal account of what really happens, from both the perspective of the agents and also the immigrants themselves. Regardless of one's opinions on the subject of immigration, it's clear that there's no right or wrong - no black or white - these are human beings, each with their own story, their own hopes, dreams, and fears. Cantú shows great compassion for the people he encounters, but essentially the system appears flawed, and there's little he can do on a personal level, he's simply there to enforce immigration laws.
I found the first part of the book to be quite disjointed, and there were lots of facts and figures to absorb - ( and although I realise these were important ) I found it heavy going at times. There were some distressing scenes regarding drugs cartels and those dealing in human trafficking - they were heartbreaking to read, but it would have been wrong to omit these, because these are the facts laid bare, and there's no way of skirting round them.
This is an informed and honest look at something that everyone has an opinion on. Cantú uses a blank canvas to paint us a picture, but it's a picture you wouldn't want to stand and admire. I doubt you'll find a more crucial read regarding immigration and border control than this one.
*Thank you to Random House UK, Vintage Publishing for my ARC in exchange for an honest review*
The Line Becomes A River (Hardcover) by Francisco Cantú is a very emotional book. I was angry, depressed, sad, but I don't think I was happy once in the book. The guy of the story, his mother was a ranger and he grew up loving the outdoors and near the border. He has Mexican heritage. Interested in the politics of the border, he takes classes in college and gets a degree but still he wants to be up close and know more. He becomes a border guard and describes the training and what it was like. He also talks about the job. He doesn't stay with it and moves to something else. It gets very personal when he befriends someone. For three years he talks with person daily and doesn't know he is illegal until that guy goes south to see his dying mother and gets caught coming back. The guy had been in the country over 30 years and has kids and a wife here. Now what? Very emotional roller coaster ride all the way through the book. Got this from the library.
This book seems too small for all it accomplishes. The quiet watchfulness and introspection of the Prologue tamps down opinion before it develops. We are here to listen, to understand. It is such a quiet read, immediately alert to the tension inherent in a grandson of immigrants policing the border.
This is a beautiful book, a beautiful physical object. Riverhead Books formatted the inside to be a kind of art, using gray pages to separate the sections and lines to guide our eye, delineate our thoughts. We recognize we are privileged to see what an American thinks of the border, an American with reason to care about the migrants, who shares our history and theirs.
The real terror that migrants bring or flee is not hidden; it is one of the first things the border guards encounter. A drug capture is a feather in one’s cap. The people ferrying the drugs are not as important; they are allowed to struggle back to where they came from, or continue onward if they dare. Not much thought is expended in their direction.
Before long, Cantú becomes aware of his own muted, muffled response to the hideousness of the choices facing his human captures. The job itself appears to be a reason why he cannot envision himself in their place. Then we discover Cantú’s stress is coming out by a grinding of his teeth when at rest. He dreams of captures—his response and theirs—and how it could be different.
He moves to a different job, a different state. He watches, in a computer lab, movements in the border area. He researches reasons for population movement, drug dealing, gang murders, a capture’s history. This knowledge does not abate his nighttime fears. He starts to try to imagine the humanity behind the statistics, quoting the historian Timothy Snyder, “Each record of death suggests, but cannot supply, a unique life….it is for humanists to turn these [deaths] back into people.”
He goes back to El Paso and the Rio Grande and finds himself more confused than ever. “…studying…and reading…international affairs…I had the idea that…the patrol…would somehow unlock the border for me…but…I have more questions than ever before.” Exposure to the violence of the border region gave him a kind of moral injury: “Moral injury is a learned behavior, learning to accept the things you know are wrong.”
In contemplating the migration of individuals from Mexico and Central America to North America, Cantú must examine the horror facing those migrants in their own countries. He gives us a taste of it, leading us to question our own understanding of government, laws, fairness, money, profit, coercion, protection. We realize we do not know the answers to the questions these migrants raise: How are we to live? What do we have to lose?
Cantú leaves the border patrol to think, write, read, study. In trying to make sense of his own history, his recent past, and his future, he takes a job in which he meets a man who becomes his friend. That man, it turns out, is what Americans call an illegal, though he has lived and worked more than thirty years in the United States. All the understanding Cantú learned at the border is put into practice now as he couples his sensitivity and sensibility with experience.
This gorgeous, thoughtful read is replete with references to poets and novelists, as well as to those who write history, philosophy, international affairs. Cantú took time and had the resources to assimilate his feelings about illegal border crossing—the indignity, the futility of it—and he is eloquent in his expression of it.
What I came away with, putting financially-motivated drug traffic aside, was that the movement of individuals is migration, something that is not going to stop because we disapprove. When things get bad enough, people move. Cantú’s title alludes to the water-like quality of the stream, and the possibilities for growth.
Flood. We, and the people of other great nations, should think about restructuring our attitudes to accept the reality of a world in crisis and how that affects us whether we want it to or not. We must look at ourselves and the world, ourselves in the world, to see what we need to do to keep ourselves from moral injury.
This is a book for the #bluelivesmatter & #alllivesmatter crowd. I hate that crowd.
from an interview in the San Antonio Express News:
"Q. How does the image of the Border Patrol square with your experience?
[Cantu]: Agents have been represented as callous, and they have come to expect that. But some of the people I worked with were some of the most intelligent, humane people I’ve ever met. It’s the largest law-enforcement force in the country, 18,000 agents. It’s bigger than the FBI and the DEA. I hope readers see the difficulty of their jobs depicted in the book."