Originally posted on the MACUHO Diversity Blog.
Recently I had the opportunity to read The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border, by Francisco Cantú. As a member of the Campus Read committee our goal is to read texts that continue to enrich the educational experience of our student population. Further, our hope is to select a book that can be interwoven into many elements of campus programming, such as Residence Life. This text was selected by the committee because the topic of immigration is critically important, especially with the upcoming 2020 presidential election. I cannot praise Cantú’s work enough.
The author worked as a Border Patrol agent from 2008-2012 and shares his personal account of the horrific incidents that migrants face both at the border, and in their home country of Mexico. The first part of the book talked about the beginning of Cantú’s career as an agent. One of the most disturbing stories described an incident where Cantú’s fellow agents found the belongings of migrants who were crossing the border. What many Americans may not realize is that the Mexican/American border is a desert, which naturally serves as a dangerous barrier for those who attempt to cross countries. The agents destroyed the belongings by kicking them around and urinating on them. The migrants who owned the belongings would face possible death without water and clothing. This is one of many accounts of unnecessary cruelty by Cantú’s fellow colleagues. The author consistently describes his struggle to maintain a sense of humanity throughout the duration of his career, often describing night terrors of the incidents that he witnessed.
The second part of the book described the part of the author’s career when he worked in intel from an office. Although he was away from active duty on the border, Cantú speaks about his cravings to return to the border where he used to serve. This again was a point where the author struggled with his sense of humanity. Although he recognized that many Mexicans crossing the border faced treacherous conditions, possible death, and additional horrific conditions after they are potentially caught by Border Patrol, the author still desired to return to active work on the border. The author did return to more active duty before stepping away from his role in 2012.
In the third part of the book, Cantú is working as a barista in a coffee shop and befriends a man named José, who he later learns is an undocumented immigrant. José went to Mexico to visit his dying mother after living in the United States for over 30 years and was detained when trying to cross back into the country. The third chapter paints the challenging process that many undocumented Americans face when they are detained. Although José had a good immigration lawyer who collected evidence to prove that he was a dedicated American and loving father, he was still deported to Mexico. The author concludes the book with an afterward about the current political climate in relation to his experience; he summarizes this perfectly with the following: “Today, instead of looking back on an uglier time, we see a border that has become ever more militarized, ever more deadly for migrants, ever more dismissive of their lives and indifferent to their suffering. (251)” Cantú also speaks to how critically important his story has become with the current fixation on “building the wall” and ostracizing our fellow humans from the south.
As student affairs professionals, it is critically important that we understand our student populations and their stories. Many students are undocumented on today’s college campuses or have faced stories similar to the ones shared by Cantú. The Line Becomes a River has moved me more than any book I have read in a while and I cannot recommend it enough. I have also learned a lot about what the border genuinely looks like and the horrific challenges that are faced by detained undocumented individuals. The unfortunate reality is that many Americans remain ignorant to the inhumane conditions of the Mexican border due to deeply rooted xenophobic beliefs. It is critical that Americans deepen their understanding of how inhumane the conditions are in detention centers and how challenging it is to become a United States citizen. Our system has failed so many and it is time for us to do better.
The author concludes the book with a number of sources and information on how to become more involved with immigration reform. As responsible citizens of this country it is our duty to learn about all social issues that are faced by fellow Americans and aspiring Americans daily. It is also critical to understand why many of our neighbors from the south seek refuge in our country. The book talks about the drug cartel in Mexico and the terror that many face in the wake of the cartel as they try to live their lives in Mexico. In the final section, José says that he does not want his children to grow up in Mexico because growing up in the midst of the cartel is a way of life: “I realized that, as a good father, I could never bring my boys here. I think a lot about the environment here in Mexico. Here it is normal for children to hear of murder. There’s a school just down the street from here, I walk by it every day. I see the children in the schoolyard play at killing. (234)” José also shared a story of how the cartel murdered 43 educated college students in Mexico because they were simply trying to be politically active and make positive changes. So many people fail to check their privileges when it comes to safety. They fail to recognize that many come to our country to live a safe life, one that they may not be able to live in their homeland.
My hope is that this book will inspire others to become more educated on immigration reform and that those who express hatred toward the Mexican community will understand why many are faced with no other options than to cross the border illegally for the sake of their families. My hope is that those who read the book will create space for empathy; To think about what they would do in the shoes of our migrant siblings. My hope is that as student affairs professionals we can do a better job to understand the stories of our students and to understand the extreme challenges that they may have faced to get to where they are today. Again, I cannot recommend this book enough and I encourage you to make time to read it before voting this upcoming fall. When we vote, we vote for all Americans. We vote for those who may not have the space to vote. We are responsible for all our fellow humans in this country and those who aspire to walk among us as citizens.
Cantú, F. (2018). The line becomes a river: Dispatches from the border. New York: Riverhead Books.