Photo courtesy of Beowulf Sheehan
There’s a lot of misinformation being thrown around about undocumented immigrants. Some people equate being undocumented with being a criminal, even though people’s first immigration violation is a civil, not criminal, offense. Many also believe that undocumented immigrants don’t speak English. But, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute report, 62 percent of undocumented immigrants in Pennsylvania either only speak English
or speak English well.
No one understands the difference between immigration myths and facts better than author Francisco Cantú. Cantú worked as a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent from 2008 to 2012. He patrolled the U.S.-Mexico border
, and also grew up near the border while his mother worked at National Parks in the Southwest.
He wrote a memoir about his experience as a border-patrol agent called The Line Becomes a River
. Cantú studied international relations in college, and he describes in the book how he wanted to join the border patrol so he could experience the actual border, instead of just studying theory in the classroom.
The book has received praise from critics across the country for its authentic portrayal of law-enforcement officers and undocumented immigrants. Cantú will be at the City of Asylum bookstore at Alphabet City, in the North Side, on Feb. 17 for a free reading of his new book.
Cantú spoke with Pittsburgh City Paper
by phone earlier this week, and says he is excited to share the stories in his book, especially given the highly charged atmosphere of America’s immigration debate. He hopes his voice will have an impact on how undocumented immigrants
“For people like me who have lived in and worked in borderland, this issue has never gone away,” says Cantú. “The more eyes we have on the border is good. As an agent the biggest thing I took away wasn’t the car chases or drug busts, it was mostly the stories of people who are just in search of a better life.”
Cantú admits that as a border-patrol agent he was “complicit in perpetuating flawed policies and institutional violence” and he hopes his book can help him “come to terms with that.” He says he is distraught by the rhetoric surrounding immigrants.
“Now we see this rhetoric ratcheted up to how immigrant and refugees are criminals,” says Cantú. “There is such dehumanization about so many migrants. I hope this book works against that. And it's why I wanted to share these personal details.”
Cantú’s reading will be held on Feb. 17 from 3:30 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. at Alphabet City. The event is free and you can RSVP at Alphabet City’s website