Before the sun can hit Cole Border in the eyes at 5am, his Mexican alarm clock goes off, "Buenas dias, buenos dias, buenas dias…." The mechanical cactus clock was a gift that Cole’s family gave him when he graduated from the academy. He had never been to the desert before and they thought it was funny that his new career took him straight to the land of the cacti in Yuma, Arizona.
Cole groans. It feels like he was only asleep for a few minutes. Because he's only been on the job for a few months, Cole has been working 10- to 13-hour shifts five days a week. Someday he'll be off the new trainee shift. By the time he gets home at night, he has only enough energy to make a microwave dinner and sink into his bed. Before you start feeling bad for him, the microwave dinners are Marie Callender's. Okay, it’s still a little depressing.
Cole makes a stop at a coffee shop before going into the office. A couple of girls behind the counter give him a dirty look. "Must be the uniform," Cole thinks. Not everyone is pleased with the Border Patrol. In fact, there are generally a lot of rumors that circulate around border towns of agents abusing the law. Some people think that agents patrol towns looking to pick up immigrants off the street or shut down companies that hire illegal aliens. The reality of the situation is that there is enough of the border for agents to patrol without having to uphold the law in town. Also, people are polarized on the issue of immigration. There are a number of people who disagree with immigration law. Unfortunately, agents get some abuse from people who disagree with certain U.S. laws. They are also unpopular with extraterrestrials, who are just looking for some place to wipe out a population and call home.
We deflate in peace.
Cole grabs his coffee and walks back to his car. He sees his face in the windshield. "Oh, they must have been looking at this wicked sunburn," he thinks. Cole never remembers his sunscreen. "Such a rookie mistake."
Cole walks into the office to get his assignment for his shift.
"Hey Cole!" It’s one of his fellow agents, Todd. "Were you in that raid last night? I heard they found some guy who swallowed 50 packets of heroin."
"No, it was quiet on my section of the grid," Cole replies, "Hey, look at this picture that I took yesterday."
Cole shows Todd a picture of himself pointing his Berretta 96D pistol at a lizard.
"Wow, you must be getting pretty bored out there, or suffering from heat stroke," Todd says, laughing as he walks away.
Yuma is pretty tame compared to other border cities. In fact, places like San Clemente checkpoint make over 2,400 arrests a year. Other places like Douglas, Arizona, used to catch thousands of people trying to cross in a day. Cole is happy when his day is quiet, but that rarely occurs. When it comes to patrolling the border, no two days are the same. On certain days, he's even too busy to snap photos of himself pointing loaded weapons at reptiles.
Cole drives a back road that takes him to a high point in the desert where he can watch the fence. There have been reports that this section of the grid has seen a rise in "crossers" in the last couple of days. Luckily, the new generation of barriers allows him to see through it and into Mexico. Older barriers wouldn't allow agents to see groups of people behind the barrier. His radio is silent until the sun barely sets. He busies himself looking through his binoculars, radioing people, searching for tunnels around his post, and thinking about who could play him if his life was turned into a movie. He's thinking Jude Law, as long as Jude Law would be willing to put on 60 pounds.
"We got threes," the voice on the radio announces. Cole jumps in his SUV to search for the three crossers. He makes a call to other agents for backup. Agents start showing up left and right to look for the people crossing. A couple of agents walk along the fence with flashlights while others drive around the terrain. Finally, the infrared tracking device installed in Cole’s car picks up one of the suspects in the dark. He barks orders on the radio and the three crossers are taken into custody.
When crossers are picked up, they are taken to a holding cell where they are fingerprinted and photographed before they are allowed to return to Mexico. Families are sent to different holding cells and have to wait to be reunited.
In the back of Cole's mind, he’s slightly relieved that there weren’t any children in the group of crossers. It is never easy taking a mother and her crying baby into custody. Unfortunately, children are a common sight. Between January and September in 2010, 3,000 juveniles were repatriated (sent back) from Nogales to Mexico. The pain he has seen on people’s faces has kept him up many a night.
This night is just beginning. He goes back to his spot high up on the hill and continues the vigilant watch until another radio call comes in. A truck has busted through part of the fence.
"Maybe Clive Owen could play me instead," Cole says without thinking.
"What did you say?" the radio asks.
"Oh, nothing," he says. "I’ll be right there looking for tracks."
Cole drives his car down the mountainside and into another adventure. Dangerous? Yes, but there is nothing like the excitement. Until that movie comes out, anyway.