Borderline: Defending The Home Front
By Vincent Vargas
JOCKO PRESS, an imprint of St. Martin's Press; hardcover, 320 pages; $30.00
Vincent Vargas is a Los Angeles native who served four years of active duty in the United States Army, with three combat deployments with 2nd Battalion of the elite 75th Ranger Regiment. He then joined the U.S. Army Reserves, where he continues to serve as a drill sergeant. In 2009, he became a Federal Agent with the Department of Homeland Security and served as a Medic with the Special Operations Group. He is an entrepreneur, actor, writer, and producer who currently stars on the FX show, Mayans MC. He is happily married with seven children and lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Borderline is Vargas' new book, and it looks at his life at war in the Middle East and as a member of the U.S. Border Patrol. It is an inside look at the border the United States shares with Mexico, 2,000 miles of our national border that's a thin line of underfunded, overworked, and underappreciated Border Patrol Agents who stand guard.
It is a world that is dramatic, violent, and always controversial. From human trafficking to drug smuggling, Vargas has seen it all, and it is migrants who have mostly paid the price. It is the fate of these thousands of migrants that is at the root of the dilemma.
While the migrant issue and border security is in the news all the time, very little time is spent on the humanitarian aspects of it, and the nation's leaders have turned the conflict into a political weapon. He cuts through the chatter to reveal the true human cost. Vargas' grandmother came to the U.S. as an illegal immigrant, displays heartfelt empathy for those entering the U.S. seeking a better life. He also captures the life of Border Patrol Agents, and recounts in novelistic style the many water rescues of migrants unable to navigate the treacherous Rio Grande River, as well as gun battles from both sides of the border and across the river with "coyotes," human traffickers, and drug cartel members.
A DISCUSSION WITH VINCENT VARGAS (Provided by St. Martin's Press):
St. Martin's Press: How did your family history shape your approach to your work with the Border Patrol?
Vincent Vargas: I never thought about being a Border Patrol Agent until I was older, and a friend mentioned to me what they do. It was never a thought. I would visit Mexico and I was oblivious to the immigration situation until I got older and really understood and dug into my family's history. and learned my grandmother came over illegally. That opened my eyes to the dichotomy of being a Mexican American Border Patrol Agent.
St. Martin's Press: What was the most difficult moment during your time with Border Patrol?
Vincent Vargas: The most difficult moment in my career was attempting to rescue someone from drowning and just being seconds too late while they were pulled under. I have rescued a few handfuls of people, I don't remember their faces. I do remember this young man's face.
St. Martin's Press: What would you say is the most common misconception people have about what the Border Patrol does?
Vincent Vargas: The most common misconception people have of the Border Patrol is that it's a bunch of racist individuals not wanting to allow anyone into the country. That wouldn't be further from the truth. The Border Patrol has more agents that are of Latin or Hispanic descent than any other race. It's an organization that has a profound belief in protecting this country and the legal immigration process.
St. Martin's Press: Do you think the politicians in Washington DC don't truly understand what life is like on the border for the Border Patrol agents, or is all their posturing to their constituents?
Vincent Vargas: This is a hard one to answer. Immigration and the Border Patrol has been highly politicized in recent years; this is why I chose to write a book on this topic. I don't think there are many politicians who know the challenges we face on the border on a daily basis and/or have boots-on-the-ground experience. This could be why when anyone implements immigration change it's just a surface level answer while the deep-rooted issues are still present.
St. Martin's Press: How has your family history weighed on some of the toughest decisions you had to make in regard to immigrants desperately crossing into the U.S. for a better life?
Vincent Vargas: The Border Patrol Line Unit has the most challenging job in the career field. Day in and day out they have to witness the hardships of families fighting to get across and sometimes losing their lives. I only had a short time on the line and it was never easy to deny a family access to the greatest nation and the land of opportunity. I have always seen a little bit of my grandmother in everyone. I have empathy, but I also had to do my job.
St. Martin's Press: Is our border truly "indefensible" in regard to being completely secure?
Vincent Vargas: The border is a vast area, and we don't have enough agents to cover it with confidence. I don't know if we can ever call the border secure even with more technology and support. The fascinating thing with human beings is that when they're driven for something, they will always find a way to achieve their goal.
St. Martin's Press: What differentiates the pressures of your Army Ranger career in Afghanistan and Iraq with the work you did in BORTAC (Border Patrol Tactical Unit) and BORSTAR (Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue)?
Vincent Vargas: My time as an Army ranger had prepared me for my time as a BORSTAR agent and becoming a medic attached to BORTAC. The missions were different by definition but the overall goal of protecting our nation was the same.
St. Martin's Press: The influx of desperate people, in large numbers and small, that come from impoverished and violent nations is one thing as far as the border being under siege, but how fragile is it to terrorists, criminal gangs and deadly narcotics haulers? Have their numbers skyrocketed in recent years?
Vincent Vargas: When looking at the border situation we have to see two issues that we simultaneously have to address: immigration and Homeland Security. When talking about immigration, we have to understand that we as a country will always be the land of opportunity. This will always leave us open to potential threats. As for Homeland Security, we have to have a posture that can somehow identify these threats as they try to manipulate the system. This makes the Border Patrol career field the most challenging and the most important. I wouldn't say the numbers have skyrocketed; rather, they're more publicized.
St. Martin's Press: How has your family history, as well as your time in the Border Patrol, helped shape how you approach your work in front of the camera?
Vincent Vargas: I feel because of my background and experience I have been able to see things from many perspectives and have been able to convey the Border Patrol mission in a way that isn't divisive or argumentative.
St. Martin's Press: What does the U.S. have to do better (or should have done in the past) in order to show the people of Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean that the legal way to enter the U.S. is actually not complicated and they don't have to put themselves in a precarious situation?
Vincent Vargas: I believe the U.S. has developed a campaign creating a massive flow of information and education on how individuals can become citizens legally. It is our job to educate and facilitate safe and legal entry.