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Texas Book Festival — San Antonio Edition

Interview with Hipolito Acosta

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

The Shadow Catcher: A U.S. Agent Infiltrates Mexico’s Deadly Crime Cartels
Moderator: Sergio Troncoso

Born to Mexican-American migrant workers, our country's immigration woes tug at Hipolito Acosta's heart. As an undercover federal agent, he spent years infiltrating drug- and human-smuggling rings and saw firsthand what many migrants face coming to the U.S. He recalls sucking down exhaust fumes when coyotes crammed him and a South American child into the back of an old, beat up Chevy Nova. Smugglers packed him into the back of a U-Haul with immigrants, traveling thousands of miles with little food or water. He chronicles the experiences his first book, The Shadow Catcher. 10-10:45 a.m., Navarro Classroom, Navarro Campus.

Interview with Hipolito Acosta

By Michael Barajas

Can you briefly talk about your history, how you rose through Border Patrol and INS to start leading these undercover operations?

I was born in West Texas, and I grew up in a small town by the name of Redford. I come from a large family. We had a small farm there, but we traveled up in the farm fields, going north. We made our rounds every year, which was very common back then.

You write that it was a sort of a typical Mexican-American migrant farmworker family.

Yes, exactly. I grew up right along the U.S.-Mexico border. I graduated high school when I was 15. I don't know if I was real smart or if they just wanted to kick me out. It was an interesting time. I joined the Navy when I was 17, spent four years in the Navy. I got out and ultimately joined the U.S. Border Patrol in Marfa, Texas. Then after a year I kind of wanted a little more action, I wanted a different flavor in law enforcement. I had gotten into a smuggling case there in Marfa that I found very interesting and I wanted to pursue criminal investigations going after smugglers. I took a position in Chicago, transferred up there, and I spent a good portion of time, some five or six years, up there. That's where my criminal investigative career really took off.
This first book deals with an early part of my career with a small number of cases that I did back then. I'm hoping to have another book come out in the future to cover other parts of my career.

You write about these tense situations, like when you were smuggled by coyotes. What's the most dangerous or tenuous situation that you recall?

One of the things that surprised me early in my career was crossing the river. When I'd sneak back into the U.S. from Juárez, although I was a young agent in real good shape, I wasn't really expecting the waters of the Rio Grande there to be so strong. I felt myself being pulled by the currents, and that was a kind of panicking feeling. The other thing was when I got smuggled from Tijuana to San Diego and ultimately to Los Angeles. I got placed in the trunk of a 1968 Chevy Nova. That was a very difficult situation, because I didn't have any control over where I was headed. I had no control over the vehicle. I couldn't even see where I was going. You might recall there's this master counterfeiter by the name of Newton Van Drunen that's mentioned in the book. The second time that I arrested him in November 1981, his driver took off trying to evade arrest, and I was in his way. I got hit, and I got dragged about 30 yards by the car. It injured my back, and it's something I've suffered all my life with.

Texas Book Festival — San Antonio Edition
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