Twilight on the Line: Underworlds and Politics at the U.S.-Mexico Border

Title: Twilight on the Line: Underworlds and Politics at the U.S.-Mexico Border
Published by: W. W. Norton & Company
Release Date: January 17, 1998
Pages: 320
ISBN13: 978-0393337594
Buy the Book: AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieBound


Drugs, smuggling, gangs, corruption, heroes, martyrs, and assassins on the Tijuana-San Diego border.

It would seem the stuff of a fevered thriller if it were not all true: Street gang members from San Diego recruited by a drug cartel are embroiled in the murder of a Roman Catholic cardinal at the Guadalajara airport. Border guards struggle to resist the relentless temptation, despair, and lawlessness at the international line, while Mexican federal police ride shotgun for drug lords in Chevy Suburbans stolen in San Diego. A tunnel is dug under the U.S.-Mexico border to a cannery where cocaine is to be hidden in cans of jalapeno peppers. An alliance of Asian and Mexican racketeers smuggle hundreds of Chinese immigrants. A factory worker assassinates the probable next president of Mexico during a campaign rally, and the bosses of his own party are suspected of being the masterminds. And in a surreal penal village, inmates live with their wives and children, entrepreneurs run businesses, and gangsters live in luxury.

This is the U.S.-Mexico border in the 1990s, in the age of NAFTA-a microcosm of porous borders everywhere between the worlds of wealth and poverty, legal and illegal business, power and corruption, democracy and authoritarianism, hope and despair. Sebastian Rotella's masterful portrait of the border is one you will not easily forget.


“Sebastian Rotella’s passionate reporting on the street kids of San Diego led me to write ‘Balboa Park.” His Twilight on the Line makes clear what’s at stake on our nation’s southern frontier.”
-Bruce Springsteen

Twilight on the Line was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 1998.

A “vivid study of immigration, crime and graft at the Mexican border…[Rotella] brings its story alive with dense and concrete detail.”
-Richard Rayner, New York Times Book Review

“Rotella’s book is captivating and revelatory. More than that, it’s right. It’s fascinating for all the right reasons…Rotella’s descriptions are often as elegant as a good novel’s…‘Twilight on the Line’ casts its last light on the shady corners of this vast canyon between us. Sebastian Rotella has opened a bridge across that gap. We would do well to cross it.”
-Luis Alberto Urrea, San Diego Union Tribune

“A magnificent story of the chaotic life along the 14-mile U.S.-Mexico border between San Diego and Tijuana…Rotella has created a rich and detailed tableau against which he portrays the simultaneous process of democratization and violence within Mexico and a locale where the best and worst of U.S. and Mexican societies collide and blend.”
-Foreign Policy

“A searing, colorful portrait of the depth of the drug world’s penetration into Mexican politics, its linkage to U.S. gangs, and its impact across the border. This is not a run-of-the-mill book about border life but a lucid, informative explanation of some of the most destabilizing political crimes in recent Mexican history…every person interested in Mexico, expert and general reader alike, owes him a debt of thanks.”
-Roderic Ai Camp, Library Journal


Baja became a battlefield obscured by a fog of fear, subterfuge and political rivalry. Friends blurred into foes, victims into villains, police into thieves. Soon the fog spread to Mexico City, bringing new violence and extraordinary accusations about gangsterism at the top. It seemed that despite their Ivy League degrees, refined tastes and impeccable English, a sector of the Mexican elite spoke the same murderous language as the border drug lords…

Mafias, drugs, immigration, globalization, democratization: the tectonic shifts of the 1990s reshaped the Mexican border, Mexico and the relationship between Mexico and the United States. The repercussions at the San Diego-Tijuana line were palpable. The secret and very organized structures beneath the apparent anarchy became fleetingly visible. The stories of the border were more urgent and spectacular than ever because they showed raw history at work. The border told stories about individuals swept up and transformed by vast forces, caught in a singular place and moment. The stories were bleak, heroic, crazy, tragic…

The border was magical and deadly and ambiguous. The allure of the border drew the reporters back to the diner across the boulevard from the bullring in Tijuana every night. The reporters joked, whispered, talked fast, always on edge, always on the prowl for a tip, a source, a story. They stayed at Big Boy long into the night. They found it hard to leave, hard to stop. They were the storytellers of the border. And there was no better story in the world.

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