TUCSON, Arizona – Former US Border Patrol agent Francisco Cantu deplores in his book “The Line Becomes a River” the dehumanization suffered by undocumented immigrants and how the hundreds of deaths that occur every year on the border are the new normal.
Fascinated with the 1,954-mile line that separates the United States from Mexico, this Mexican migrant’s grandson with a degree in International Relations joined the Border Patrol 10 years ago.
He signed up determined to stop reading about the border in books and learn what was really going on there. What he saw was frightening.
His book, whose English version went on sale early this month and which will be published in Spanish this spring under the title “La Linea Se Convierte en Rio,” relates his experiences with the Border Patrol in Texas, New Mexico and the Arizona desert between 2008-2012.
“When I joined the Border Patrol I thought I could help as a humanitarian agent. I trained to give first aid, I wanted to save people’s lives, cure the injured, hydrate them, but in fact it was very hard to feel good about myself because what I really did was lock them in a cell to be deported to the country they had escaped from, often fearing for their lives,” he said in an interview with EFE.
For that reason, he despised the pictures revealed by the No More Deaths group showing border officials dumping into the dirt the gallons of water volunteers had left in the desert to save immigrants’ lives. How could that be, when he had always seen this work as providing humanitarian aid?
One of the cases he most remembers of that dehumanization to which the undocumented are submitted was that of two little girls traveling alone. They were taken to a Border Patrol checkpoint, to which Cantu was called as a translator.
“I remember their confusion and fear of being questioned by all those Border Patrol agents,” he said, noting how terrified they looked.
“In a situation like that you ask yourself if you’re really doing anything good,” he said.
In 2012 when he resigned, 471 deaths on the border were reported, while in fiscal year 2016 there were 239 deaths and in 2016 the number was 294.
“We’re facing a real humanitarian crisis. I don’t think we talk enough about the hundreds of people who die every year on the border,” Cantu said.