In Hipólito Acosta’s newest book, Deep in the Shadows, each chapter is a riveting mini-mystery full of felons and malice, countered by bold law enforcement moves. Acosta, now retired, was a key figure in the US Immigration and Naturalization Service for 30 years. While undercover, he “traveled in the backs of trucks and in the trunks of cars with those seeking to enter our country. I had infiltrated human smuggling, as well as narcotics trafficking.” He writes, “I had twice taken down the most notorious counterfeiter who sold false documents to illegals and manufactured U.S. dollars in the millions.”
From the beginning of his career, he realized “it was clear to me that I would be locked in a long battle with the criminal organizations running human smuggling operations and catering to the desperate needs of newly arrived undocumented immigrants.” Along the way, “I was accused of foreign espionage by envious fellow agents. I was in fist fights, dragged by a car, stabbed, thrown into a Mexican jail when my cover was blown, and my life was threatened on a regular basis.”
Now married and the father of four, Acosta grew up in Redford, Texas, graduated high school at 15, worked on an oil rig, then served four years in the Navy before joining the U.S. Border Patrol in 1975. There he not only enforced laws but worked to “change the means of enforcement [ . . . ] Bureaucracy-busting became one of my favorite sports, along with teaming up with some great agents to go after the most notorious and challenging smuggling organizations.”
After working on his first human smuggling case, he writes, “That was a game changer for me.” He then took an INS job in Chicago. One assignment involved Nicky Gudiño-Ortega, who ran a document vending enterprise selling phony identity packets. Acosta and his then partner, David García, captured Nicky, who “began a vendetta against me while he was in prison that would span years, cross borders and eventually put me and my family in so much danger that we had to be re-located from Chicago.”
Acosta took a temporary assignment at Ft. McCoy, Wisconsin, a resettlement camp for Cuban refugees, figuring it would be a desk job with regular hours. “How hard could it be?” He soon found out. “I’m sure President Carter meant well, but his announcement [welcoming Cubans into the U.S.] would soon culminate in one of the worst administrative nightmares the INS had ever encountered,” writes Acosta. “Castro rid himself of imprisoned dissidents and criminals in one fell swoop.” While at Ft. McCoy, Acosta and fellow agent George Morones “identified some 1,000 criminals, including 45 who admitted to at least one murder and, in some cases, multiple killings.”
In the human smuggling business, not all the bad guys are guys. Peruvian-born Gloria Canales was a legendary smuggler, Sylvia Hernández and her overnight “stash house” for aliens was targeted, and Santos Rodríguez and her daughter were lured into U.S. custody by the prospect of receiving a prize-winning pig.
One of the important narcotics busts involved lifelong criminal Margarito Flores-Marín. Born in Mexico, he obtained a green card and moved to the Chicago area in 1976. During the transaction, Flores handed over an ounce of heroin. “The size of the sample was odd,” writes Acosta. “Normally only a small amount is provided as a sample for prospective buyers. Clearly, Flores had a large amount of heroin available, but also had no idea what he was doing.” He continues, “As often happens in search and seizure operations, it was somewhat chaotic when we entered Flores’ home to arrest him. Flores was stunned and all he could do was glare, mostly at me [ . . . ].” He received a 15-year sentence.
Acosta never downplays the severity of his former job, but he livens things up with blow-by-blow narrations infused with his personality. For example, while undercover on the Salvador Pineda case, he crashes the smuggling cartel leader’s Mother’s Day celebration and, “Just about the time Pineda had clearly had enough of my friendliness, a mariachi group walked by us.” “How much for a song?” Acosta asks. “Can I sing it myself?” The band played “Las Mañanitas.” “I don’t know if I sounded good or not, but Mrs. Pineda was happy,” he writes.
Deep in the Shadows is full of adventures that draw readers in to see what will happen next. At the same time, it’s an informative and balanced examination of undocumented immigrants, the villains who smuggle people and drugs across borders, and the workings of the Border Patrol and INS.