Last Updated on June 25, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 405
The author's mother, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, warns Cantú about the violent nature of the Border Patrol job and how it may harm his soul. He doesn't heed her warning. He has studied the issue in college and believes real-world experience will allow him to learn the keys to finding a policy solution to the humanitarian crisis on the southern border. He leaves the job four years later, having learned that he is further away than ever from coming up with an easy policy solution.
In section one, Cantú introduces us to the tradecraft of a border patrol agent. He relates the skills of detecting evidence of undocumented migrants in the desert and the importance of finding them, as they are often in distress. Mexican coyotes (drug smugglers and human traffickers) charge them thousands of dollars to guide them over the border, then they leave them in the desert with a four- or five-day journey ahead of them through the scorching southern Arizona desert with little more than a water bottle. The death toll is high. The agents feel good about saving lives and busting drug smugglers, but some feel ambiguous about sending desperate people back to the violent world they are fleeing.
Section two deals with Cantú's internal monologues after he is transferred to a desk job dealing with intelligence information. We see that around half of the Border Patrol is made of people of first- or second-generation Mexican American descent, often from the border area. The author intimates that we should not be too quick to judge the motivations of the Border Patrol agents themselves. The author is also sympathetic to the non-criminal illegal immigrants who are fleeing gang violence in their home regions. The author reserves his ire for the drug cartels and coyotes that commodify and abuse desperate people, as well as for the downsides of the giant impersonal bureaucracy of what he calls the deportation-industrial complex.
The final section recounts following up with an undocumented friend, José, and his American-based family as he undergoes incarceration. José is determined to return to his family in America. José states that "of course" he is going to break the law. He states that it is a matter of emotion and love.
Cantú resists offering any easy answers to problems at the border; rather, he asks the reader to consider their own morality and point of view in reacting to the crisis.