The Line Becomes a River

By Francisco Cantú

ISBN 9780735217713

Author’s website:

Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie



“A beautiful, fiercely honest, and nevertheless deeply empathetic look at those who police the border and the migrants who risk – and lose – their lives crossing it. In a time of often ill-informed or downright deceitful political rhetoric, this book is an invaluable corrective.”
—Phil Klay

For Francisco Cantú, the border is in the blood: his mother, a park ranger and daughter of a Mexican immigrant, raised him in the scrublands of the Southwest. Haunted by the landscape of his youth, Cantú joins the Border Patrol. He and his partners are posted to remote regions crisscrossed by drug routes and smuggling corridors, where they learn to track other humans under blistering sun and through frigid nights. They haul in the dead and deliver to detention those they find alive. Cantú tries not to think where the stories go from there.

Plagued by nightmares, he abandons the Patrol for civilian life. But when an immigrant friend travels to Mexico to visit his dying mother and does not return, Cantú discovers that the border has migrated with him, and now he must know the whole story. Searing and unforgettable, The Line Becomes a River makes urgent and personal the violence our border wreaks on both sides of the line.


Francisco Cantú grew up as a child of the border, and like his mother, the border is in his blood. His great-grandfather brought his family to the US when his mother was a young child. They lived near the US – Mexico border and had visited Mexico over the years. When Cantú graduated from college, he went to work for the US Border Patrol. He saw a side of the border that would haunt his dreams and heart long after returning to college.

Cantú shares a well-researched history of the Southwest border from the mid-1800’s and challenges met as the boundary continued to change. He also shares about the past leadership of Mexico. The reader of this relevant memoir is shown, through the eyes of someone who had hoped to effect positive change, how the system has responded to drug dealers and mules.  Many mules are those who paid less to be smuggled across, carrying drugs so they could be reunited with their families. There is no question about the human and drug trafficking that occurs. There is no question that change needs to come. And there is no question that someone could read this deeply moving book and be unchanged.

To avoid hours of tracking and paperwork, there are times that agents take the drugs left behind in the desert without attempting to round up the traffickers. There are other times they find the remains of those who were abandoned by the group they were with and died of exposure to the heat and dehydration. The remains are kept until a family member contacts authorities, perhaps determining through bits of clothing or other personal items whether their loved one was found dead. He writes of those who try to cross and are caught and return yet again, and of catching a young couple who are pregnant with their first child.

Cantú later takes an “inside” job when the nightmares are too frequent, too real, but he misses being out under the open sky. After returning to college, he becomes friends with a hardworking man with a wife and children. His friend goes across the border to see a dying family member and doesn’t return. Francisco learns, up close and personal, challenges faced by those trying to return to take care of their families on this side of the river as he relentlessly works on behalf of the family.

Cantú includes pertinent information from various authors, including the various types of wars enacted, including drug wars. Of particular interest is the article about moral injury, the cause, and effects. It is hard to imagine just what those who live across the border live with, circumstances in which they fear for the lives of their children and themselves; it is also hard to imagine just what the border control agents endure each day, each shift, on the job.

Cantú has written about real people, changing names or other identifiers for the privacy of those involved. It is in many ways a difficult book to read, as the truth often is, as there is currently no one solution for every person attempting to cross. This is a memoir that should be read by every man or woman who is charged with writing the immigration laws. It is a book that shows some of the untold stories, one that not one person can read without being challenged in their views about the fluid, living border.


*OBS would like to thank the publisher for supplying a free copy of this title in exchange for an honest review*