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US Border Agent says his job is misunderstood, unfairly villainized

When Vincent Vargas was training to be a Border Patrol agent in 2009, he was shown a video of two Mexicans desperately trying to enter America by swimming across the wild Rio Grande River.

One person drowned trying to save his friend, who panicked so badly that he accidentally pulled the man trying to save him under.

The video was gruesome.

Both men drowned only five feet from land and from a group of screaming friends who couldn’t swim.

“I was frustrated beyond words watching this video,” Vargas writes in “Borderline: Defending The Home Front” (St. Martin’s Press). “I told myself that I would never be able to watch someone drown if I could help it.”

With his new book, he aims to dispel some of what calls “grossly offensive and intellectually dishonest” misconceptions about border guards.

“Most Americans have a view of the US Border Patrol from what they might see on TV or online, but this is a false narrative,” he writes. “The Border Patrol has been misunderstood, vilified, criticized, and politicized by both supporters and detractors. It has been compared to organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and even the Waffen-SS.

While many assume that border guards are “a bunch of racist individuals not wanting to allow anyone in the country, that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

One night, Vargas dove into the Rio Grande to save a migrant but was helpless as the current pulled the man under.

“I have rescued a few handfuls of people, I don’t remember their faces,” he writes. “But I do remember this young man’s face.”

The border between the United States and Mexico extends to almost 2,000 miles, across mountains and canyons, deserts and rivers.

In places, it can be one of the most inhospitable places on earth but, as Vincent Vargas explains, it is also one of the deadliest.

According to US Customs and Border Protection, more than 8,000 people have died trying to cross the border since 1998 and, as Vargas notes, 35 Border Patrol agents have lost their lives in the line of duty in that time.

In places, it can be one of the most inhospitable places on earth but, as Vincent Vargas explains, it is also one of the deadliest.

“Guarding our borders can be a hazardous undertaking that, sadly, can result in the death of these agents,” Vargas writes.

From the birth of the agency in 1924 to the wide and varied array of its present-day missions, the Border Patrol is, writes Vargas, “part of that thin green line, that borderline, where battles are fought daily between the opposing extremes of life and death, justice and villainy, peace and chaos.”

Vargas served four years of active duty in the US Army 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, enduring the carnage of tours in Iraq and Afghanistan before joining Border Patrol and training to become a BORSTAR agent (Border Patrol Search Trauma and Rescue) agent, assigned to the Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC).

While Vargas coped admirably with the physical demands of the intense training program, some exercises left him perplexed and amused.

Occasionally, Vargas would be thrown into mock drug busts where irate Spanish-speaking actors would emerge from nowhere and hurl wads of cash and bags of fake drugs at the trainees, leaving the agents to try and defuse the situation. “You don’t just sit in a classroom month after month,” he writes.

But the training left Vargas in doubt about the danger of the work he was about to undertake.

In July 2009, just days before Vargas left the Academy, Border Patrol Agent Robert Rosas was shot dead with his own service pistol as he investigated a drug smuggling operation near Campo, Calif.

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