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The Line Becomes a River
Cover of The Line Becomes a River
The Line Becomes a River
Dispatches from the Border
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The instant New York Times bestseller, "A must-read for anyone who thinks 'build a wall' is the answer to anything." —Esquire
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. Driven to understand the hard realities of the landscape he loves, Cantú joins the Border Patrol. He and his partners 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. Plagued by a growing awareness of his complicity in a dehumanizing enterprise, 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 full extent of the violence it wreaks, on both sides of the line.
The instant New York Times bestseller, "A must-read for anyone who thinks 'build a wall' is the answer to anything." —Esquire
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. Driven to understand the hard realities of the landscape he loves, Cantú joins the Border Patrol. He and his partners 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. Plagued by a growing awareness of his complicity in a dehumanizing enterprise, 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 full extent of the violence it wreaks, on both sides of the line.
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  • From the book At the station I was given the keys to a transport van and told to drive out to the reservation where two quitters had been seen wandering through the streets of a small village. When I arrived it was just after dark and I noticed few signs of life as I drove past the scattered homes, scanning for disheartened crossers. In the center of the village a small adobe church stood in an empty dirt lot, and I saw that the front door had been left ajar. I parked the van and left the headlights shining on the entrance. I walked to the heavy wooden door and leaned with all my weight to push it open, causing a loud and violent scraping to rise up and echo into the dim interior.

    Inside the church, the light from my flashlight glinted off tiny strings of tinsel hanging from the ceiling. A large piece of fabric depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe was strung across the front wall, and beneath it I saw two figures lying on a blanket that had been spread out between the pews and the altar. As I approached, a man looked up at me and squinted, holding out his hand to block the light. We were resting a little, he said. It's just that we are lost, muy desanimados. A woman huddled close to him, hiding her face. The man propped himself up on one elbow and told me that they had crossed four days ago, that their guide had left them behind on the first night when they'd failed to keep pace with the group. They were lost for days, he said, with nothing to drink but the filthy water from cattle tanks. Puede ser muy fea la frontera, I told him. The man shook his head. Pues sí, he replied, pero es aún más feo donde nosotros vivimos.

    The man told me that they came from Morelos. My wife and I, we're just coming to find work, he said. He rubbed his eyes in silence. I have fresh water for you, I told them. At the station there's juice and crackers. The man looked at me and smiled weakly, then asked for a minute to gather their belongings. He stuffed some things into a backpack, then helped his wife to her feet. Her face was streaked with dried tears, and when she turned toward me I saw that she was pregnant. How many months are you? I asked. The woman looked away and the man answered for her. Seis meses. He smiled. My wife speaks perfect English, he said, shouldering the backpack. He stopped in front of the altar, bowing his head and making the sign of the cross. I waited at the door as he mumbled a prayer. Gracias, he whispered. Gracias.

    Outside I looked at their faces in the glare of my headlights. The woman seemed young. Where did you learn English? I asked. Iowa, she told me quietly. I grew up there, she said, I even got my GED. She kept her head down and avoided my gaze as she talked, glancing up only briefly at my uniformed body. Why did you leave? I asked her. She told me that she had returned to Morelos to care for her younger siblings after their mother died. In Morelos I made some money teaching English at the kindergarten, she said, I even tutored the adults in my village, people preparing for the journey north. For a few seconds she seemed proud, and then she shook her head. But the money there, it isn't enough. She glanced up at her husband. It was my idea to cross, she said. I wanted our child to have a life here, like I did.

    The man took a moment to look at me in the light. Listen, he said, do you think you could bring us back to Mexico, como hermano? You could drive us down to the border, he pleaded, you could just leave us there, allí en la línea. Like a brother. I sighed and turned my head, squinting at the darkness beyond the church. I have to bring you in, I told him. It's my job. The man took a deep breath and nodded and then...
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    September 15, 2017

    An agent for the U.S. Border Patrol from 2008 to 2012, third-generation Mexican American Cantu wearied of tracking humans and delivering them to detention and sometimes the morgue. An immigrant friend's disappearance after returning to Mexico to visit family prompted him to look at immigration on both sides of the border. Since he claims Fulbright, Whiting, and Pushcart honors, Cantu can tell us well.

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    November 15, 2017
    A Mexican-American student of international relations becomes a United States Border Patrol agent to learn what he can't in the classroom.Cantu 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." Cantu 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 Cantu, 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.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from December 11, 2017
    An ex–Border Patrol agent finds himself on both sides of the battle over illegal immigration in this fraught memoir of his time patrolling the Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas borders from 2008 to 2012, an experience that roiled his emotions and shook his sense of his own part-Mexican identity. He discovers at the border a zone of heartbreaking absurdity: agents arrest a parade of undocumented migrants who want nothing but a job; to do so, they employ tactics such as emptying water bottles and urinating on food caches hidden along commonly used routes to deny border crossers sustenance, then rescue them when they are dying of thirst in the desert. After Cantú quits because of teeth-grinding stress and guilt, he’s forced to further reexamine the border when an undocumented friend, José, goes to see his dying mother in Oaxaca and is arrested trying to return. Through José’s story, Cantú comes to see the border crossers’ fierce resolve in the face of border police and brutal smuggling gangs as a defense of family and civilized values. Cantú’s rich prose (“For one brief moment, I forgot in which country I stood. All around me the landscape trembled and breathed as one”) and deep empathy make this an indispensable look at one of America’s most divisive issues. Agent: Rebecca Gradinger, Fletcher & Co.

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The Line Becomes a River
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Dispatches from the Border
Francisco Cantú
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