Reading Cantú’s account reminded me of the scathing words I heard from the tribal activist Mike Flores, with whom, one suspects, Cantú’s mother might sympathize ... 'They act the tough guy, but if you put any of ’em out on the land under the sun without their toys, they’d be dead in two days' ... Cantú is part of this, but apart from it. He is from the 'broken earth,' not Texas or South Carolina; he is educated; there is a heavy-hearted softness in his dealings with those he arrests and whose language he speaks ... Cantú’s account is a refreshing counterpoint to the glut of narco-thrillers and action-movie fantasies about US agents taking out drug dealers in Mexico. His disillusion with the agency he joined is total, his dismay at the system of border control is sincerely felt, and his book is a valuable contribution to the literature on what has become an increasingly scalding issue in the Trump presidency. Cantú’s story has deep roots too in American and Mexican history: death, detention, and deportation on the border.
It is a lament for what a broken immigration system does to families, and its final third is a riveting, heartbreaking exploration of one such case ... His lyrical asides about the border, from the history of its creation to quotations of poets who've written about it, are passionately delivered and speak to his urge to give nameless migrants an identity. But he spends less time scrutinizing the institutions that create the namelessness. His discussion of the Mexican government's bloody escalation of the war against the cartels only glancingly mentions the U.S. government's implication in it or the way border crackdowns only made crossing the border more expensive and risky.
The imperfection of Cantú's approach, though, mirrors the messiness of the crisis he's facing.
His subsequent confessions take the form of vignettes that range in length from a paragraph to several pages and mimic the desert landscape he patrols: haunting but elegant, with glimmers of humor for reprieve ... emotional ambiguity is the book’s chief flaw ... Call it soul-repair, call it atonement, but it is quenching indeed when Cantú turns this empathetic tide back to the migrants in the final section of the book ... The lines on the map have morphed into a river that nearly drowns him. The achievement of this book is how deftly Cantú reels us in, cold and wet behind him.