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For the narcotics officers working in Laredo, Texas, a growing sense of futility is hard to deny. With drug cartel violence spiraling out of control on the other side of the Rio Grande in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and billions in illegal drugs streaming across the Puente de las Americas bridge into the U.S. each year, each big bust is accompanied by the realization of how much more is getting through.
“People need to understand that we’re trying our best, but we’re fighting huge organizations,” Sgt. Robert Sifuentes, one of the stars of A&E tense and illuminating new ride-along cop show Bordertown: Laredo tells the camera during the premiere episode.
Illustrating just what the undermanned unit is up against, viewers trail Sifuentes and his officers as they attempt to disrupt the flow of cartel marijuana, cocaine and other narcotics in Laredo, which a super-title assures us is “ground zero for the war on drugs.” Unlike overblown law and order reality fare as Cops or Steven Segal Lawman, the action here is startlingly authentic. For starters, the men who make up the Sifuentes’ squad are all of Hispanic origin–as are the drug dealers and smugglers they’re after. Given that the population of Laredo is 95% Hispanic, that’s not entirely surprising, but with the addition of a soundtrack of boleros, mariachi horns and flamenco guitars, Bordertown: Laredo embraces that demographic reality, making the audience reassess its stereotypes about national identity, legal and illegal immigration.
Executive producers Al Roker (The Show, D.E.A.) and C. Russell Muth (American Chopper) have delivered a superbly edited, documentary-style portrait of a American town and the problem threatening to overwhelm it. While each episode builds dramatic tension as initial tips and drug dealing arrests inevitably lead to the promise of taking down a major cartel shipment, the personalities of the members of the narcotics team prove just as engaging.
“You know what really pisses me off?” Investigator Rodriguez yells at a woman who has just been arrested for carrying 60 pounds of packaged marijuana in the trunk of her car, and whose four-year-old daughter sits in the backseat. “You have your little girl there. I don’t care what happens to you, but your little girl lying there is innocent.”
Far from being an exploitative show that ridicules the accused, Bordertown: Laredo dutifully protects the identities of its suspects, and sometimes emphasizes their humanity.
“People don’t understand how easy it is to get caught up in the drug trade down here in Laredo,” Sifuentes says after his officers arrest a young mother who is found with 60 pounds of packaged marijuana in the trunk of her car. “The drugs and the money to be made is everywhere. This woman cares about her kids, I know that, but I mean shestill moved 60 pounds, she could get time for this.”
Without giving away some of the details of the spectacular busts that take place during the first two episodes, suffice it to say that the officers on one large bust are none too pleased to learn that their forklift is broken, requiring them to unload the breath-taking payload by hand. One of the few humorous moments, the team uses the occasion to poke fun at each other’s aging backs.
Though much of Bordertown: Laredo is imbued with Cormac McCarthy levels of anguish regarding the undeniable changes being wrought on south Texas by the Mexican cartels as well as America’s appetite for their products, it also contains a fair bit of old-fashioned, roll-up-your sleeves optimism.
“I love working narcotics,” says Sifuentes. “I know my guys love working narcotics because I mean, to us, we feel like we’re taking down the scum of the earth. These are people that are trashing our neighborhoods and trashing our cities. That’s what makes it fun taking these guys down.”
That question of whether that battle can still be won is what makes Bordertown: Laredo so compelling.
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