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Pick of the day: On patrol with a border-zone sheriff

The best thing about Melissa del Bosque's account of the long day she spent in the Chihuahuan desert with a Texas sheriff was the surprising humanity she found among the good old boys in charge of keeping order in that most disorderly of places. You might expect a hard-line ferocity from a local lawman with connections to anti-immigration Republicans in Congress and 98 miles of the Rio Grande to patrol at the edge of his county (which is the size of Delaware, natch). Shoot first, and check for green cards later. But like all good characters from the borderland, Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West delivers contradictions by the Stetson-full. In his case, a white one. Really.

Indeed, West's mission during del Bosque's visit (which is recounted in "Boots on the Ground: A Day in the Life of a Border Sheriff," reprinted in the new Utne Reader after appearing in last fall in The Texas Observer), is to track down a Mexican drunk who has gone missing in the desert after his compadres were picked up by the Border Patrol.

Asked whether his constituents would approve of spending more than $12,000 in man hours and helicopter time to find the body of an alcoholic immigrant, "the sheriff seems startled, almost repulsed, by the question. 'Of course we need to find him,” he says. The man’s daughter calls every day from New Mexico. 'Wouldn’t you want us to do everything that we could to find your loved one?'"

Del Bosque's piece won't provide much new clarity on the tangle of policy and people that is the U.S.-Mexico border region. Instead, it does the opposite, and equally valuable, thing of illustrating that nothing there is ever quite what it seems.

By Steve Hendrix  | April 13, 2010; 2:49 PM ET
Categories:  Story Picks  
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