Monday, June 3, 2019

Book Club Thing: "Line Becomes A River" by Francisco Cantu

Book Club Thing: The Line Becomes A River: dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantu, 2018, audio from Wisconsin Digital Library.

My alma mater started an online book club. I sorta signed on and now get the emails that I mostly ignore. When this nonfic title came up as the next discussion I put a hold on it, but the book was not available until the discussion was over anyway.

Short version: Guy joins Border Patrol and has massive stress. Guy quits BP for grad school. Guy has work pal who is goes to MX for his sick mother and cannot legally re-enter US. Guy tries to help pal out.

Long version: Cantu's mother worked for the National Park Service and was assigned to different areas of the Southwest. Part of Cantu's family comes from Mexico and he is bilingual and visited there regularly as a child. He has fond memories of trip sot rewsertyreX with his mom. His father is mostly out of the picture.

Cantu gets out of school and his fascination with border politics, immigration, and culture draws him to join the Border Patrol. He gets an AZ assignment and works with some decent guys and some assholes. He is more - I don't know how to describe it so let's say "relaxed" about the illegal immigrants. He does not see them as evil and dirty. He chats with them, sometimes commiserates with them, and still does his job by taking them in and processing them.

Cantu sees the "I need a job, man" people and the "I'm going to IL to see my family" people. He also sees the drug mules, drug traffickers, and general assholes that any smuggling border region has. The stress of the work causes him health issues. Cantu arrests pregnant women, old men, families, etc. He finds corpses in the summer heat. He finds drug bales on the side of the road. He rescues people who are barely alive after crossing the desert in July or August.

Cantu joins an intelligence group that gets him out of the field but he also has plenty of traveling assignments away from home. He gets to know the other guys on his team but is never quite happy with his job.

Anyway. Cantu has enough after 4-5 years and leaves for grad school. I don't think he ever said where he went but I presume it is AZ State. While in school he works a coffee shop job in a plaza and becomes pals with the facility maintenance dude. Maintenance Dude says breakfast with Cantu and tells Cantu about his three sons.

Maintenance Dude's (MD) mother in MX is in hospice to MD heads down to be with her. But, MD is not a legal resident. He's been in the U.S. fro 20-30 years and US immigration won't let him in. MD sneaks over, is caught, and jailed. Cantu does his best to help out. He helps do translation for MD's family since MD's wife is not perfectly fluent. He takes MD's sons to visit MD in the fed facility because they are afraid MD's wife might be carded and deported. He assists in getting an attorney, translating for attorney and the wife, and finding documents to file an asylum or resident case.

MD's case is denied. The application is done at an administrative level. There is no court appearance - MD's argument is rejected and he is back in MX with 24 hours.  MD takes up temporary residence across from Yuma and Cantu goes to visit for a day.

MD speaks about how all his family are in the U.S. Fed policy goes by the presumption that if a parent of family member is deported then the rest of the family will follow that person over. This is a ridiculous theory.  People will risk everything for their family. That means risking life and limb to travel across the border.  Since family is everything why would they go back to MX where much of the government has been ineffective and incompetent under the drug cartels and other corruption?

Anyhoo. The book is interesting. Cantu writes plenty about border politics, drug policy, and his own family history. Some of this is a rehash of things I have heard elsewhere - mainly the insanity of the drug cartels and how no one can do a thing without their permission.

1. Cantu and other BP Agents did a lot of walking and cutting for sign. They'd park and walk through the desert after alerts from sensors or cameras. They could sometimes follow their own progress by listening to the radio channels used by drug smuggler lookouts on ridgelines and hill tops.
2. Some BP Agents are casually cruel. Example: news stories about Agents dumping out the drinking water left for immigrants. An argument for this is that doing so forces the immigrants to give up and turn themselves in. Reality: people die in the desert and their bodies are never found.
3. So many dead bodies in the desert and many are never found.
4. Border crime. There is plenty of it and hasn't it always been that way? The whole 'build that wall' is a political farce by a racist con man. The issue is that a jackape like Trump polarizes things and people avoid reality on both sides. Of course there are dangerous people on the border. There is plenty of illegal money to be made with smuggling drugs and people. There are people willing to murder for cash and there are even more people willing to share their food with BP Agents after they are arrested and still willing to share their food with BP Agents.
5. The femicides in Juarez. No freaking way the local government did not know about things and were not complicit by their inaction. No way it was one or two serial killers. Cantu says there were reports that groups of men have rape parties and then murder the victims.
6. Cantu discusses a theory on trauma and how it relates to a "warrior gene". That the warrior gene can be triggered by juvenile trauma and cause violence later on.
7.  Cantu splits the memoir into BP and after. There are some things he ruminates upon - like the above mentioned warrior gene - in the first half that are never covered again in the second half. His life before and after is almost a complete break. One life ended and the 2nd half began. He was police and then he wasn't. His thinking and behavior also changed.

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