border patrol

The mysterious death of a Border Patrol agent in West Texas last November led to two opposing theories. President Trump and many Border Patrol agents were convinced that smugglers or illegal border-crossers attacked the agent and his partner with rocks. The local sheriff says from the beginning he knew it was an accident — but nobody wanted to listen.

Culberson County, Texas, is a vast badland of thornbrush, mountain, big sky, and tractor-trailers hurtling down a lonely stretch of Interstate 10. The law in Culberson County is Sheriff Oscar Carrillo.

A Border Patrol agent is on trial for murder more than five years after he shot through a fence on the U.S.-Mexico border, killing a teenager on the other side.

Lonnie Swartz faces second-degree murder charges for the death of 16-year-old Mexican citizen Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez in 2012. Swartz shot Rodriguez 10 times across the border in Nogales.

Emily Bogel / NPR

This week on Fronteras:

We continue our conversation with Francisco Cantú, former Border Patrol agent and author of “The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border.”

The book recounts Cantú’s time patrolling the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, where he encountered drug smugglers, as well as immigrants looking for better lives in the U.S.

In part two of our interview:

  • Cantu recounts his time living and working in El Paso.
  • The stresses of the job are revealed in nightmares (3:07 ).
  • Realizing it was time to leave the agency (4:34).
  • Why writing was a way to come to terms with internal struggles from his job (7:40).
  • Befriending Jose Martinez, an undocumented immigrant after leaving the agency (10:06).
  • Reads an excerpt from the book recounting Martinez’s deportation courtroom hearing (13:42).
  • Why immigrants like Martinez are determined to cross into the U.S. despite increased border security (17:25).


In his memoir “The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border,” Francisco Cantú uses a writing technique that might strike readers as unusual.

When he is writing dialogue, he omits quotation marks.

Cantú said quotation marks pull us away from the action on the page.

This week on Fronteras:

A conversation with Francisco Cantú, former Border Patrol agent and author of “The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border.”

He begins by talking about becoming an agent in 2008 and what he witnessed in the harsh Arizona desert. Cantú also discusses the inspiration behind the title “The Line Becomes a River” (3:35), and why he felt he needed to join the Border Patrol to understand immigration issues (6:30)

From his first days as a field agent in the Tucson (11:19) to tales of the immigrants he encountered in the field (16:36) to Cantú's eventual transfer to El Paso, where he begins to see how U.S. immigration policy “weaponizes the landscape.” 


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