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The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú

When we first thought of moving to Arizona, living in Tucson made me a bit nervous because we’d be so close to the border.  Now, over five years later, I can tell you that being close to the border has not affected me directly, but it has affected me indirectly.  I’m much more aware now of border issues than I was previously, and I’m also more interested in border issues.  When I heard that someone from Tucson had written a book about being a border patrol agent, I knew I’d have to read The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú.

About The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú

Cantú divides his book into three distinct sections.

In the Field, On the Ground

The first section is when Cantú is on the ground as a border patrol agent in the field.  I’ll be honest, this section was tough to read.  The training the agents have to go through is difficult, and many drop out before they can become agents.

Once they become agents, much of their decisions seem to be based on the amount of paperwork they’ll have to file.  More often than not, they are likely to recover drugs that smugglers have dumped, but they don’t work to hard at catching the drug smugglers because they’d have to work a double shift just to complete the paperwork.

Sometimes when they chase people crossing illegally and those people drop their backpacks and water to run, the agents take the time to ruin all of their supplies in crude ways.  The rationale here is that then they’ll turn themselves in because they won’t survive in the desert without supplies.

Cantú becomes a border agent because he wants to see the border issues up close.  He also thinks he’ll be able to provide some comfort to those he catches because he can speak to them in Spanish.  What he finds instead is that he’s on the verge of becoming callous and that often, one illegal crosser blends into another until he doesn’t remember details about any of them.

In the Office

In the next section of the book, Cantú moves to an office in Tucson and begins to work behind the scenes.  There, he spends hours reading about drug traffickers and the cartel.  He sees horrible images of mutilations and killings.  The nightmares he’d begun to have working in the field intensify until he realizes, after four years working for Border Patrol, that he can’t do this anymore.

In the Layman’s World

In the last part of the book, he’s in civilian life, and he runs a little coffee cart in Tucson.  There, he meets a man, José, who works in the same complex as a janitor.  For two years every day, José takes his break with Cantú and shares his wife’s homemade food with him.  They develop a friendship.

One day José doesn’t show up to work. Cantú finds out that José’s mother is on her deathbed, and José traveled back to Mexico to see her.  Cantú feels desperate because he knows that José is undocumented and that crossing the border now isn’t as easy as it was years ago when José last crossed.

For more books on the immigration issue, consider reading Undocumented by Dan-el Padilla Peralta:

Or, for young adult readers, Crossing the Wire:

My Thoughts on The Line Becomes a River

I enjoyed The Line Becomes a River, but I have mixed thoughts about it.

In the first two sections, I found some parts dry, especially when he explained historically how the border was formed.  I also thought that his writing felt a bit muted.  He clearly is deeply disturbed by what is happening at the border as evidenced by his vivid nightmares.  Yet, he seems to write about his time on the border without much emotion.

In the third part when he meets and befriends José, I really feel that his writing shines.  This part of the story completely hooked me, and the book just came to life for me.  I wish Cantú had written the rest of the book with as much heart, but maybe that’s his point–to successfully be a border patrol agent, you must turn off your emotions.

I give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars on the Mom’s Plans’ scale.

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