On the very last page of The Devil's Highway, Luis Alberto Urrea notes that all of the Yuma 14 victims were listed as white males on their files. Why do you think this is? What is the significance of this identification?
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Luis Alberto Urrea is a reporter who srote The Devil's Highway in an attempt to shed some much-needed light on the problems at the border as well as the humanity of many of the border crossers. He writes about a group called the Wellton 26 as they lived in Mexico and made their way to the border, and as we read about their families, aspirations, and fears, they become human beings rather than just statistics. The same is true of a few key Border Patrol agents. It is true that not all of them are worthy of admiration, but they all have a story and Urrea tells it. Fourteen of the original twenty-six crossers do not survive; they are known as the Yuma 14.
The point of the writing is not to condemn any one group or organization but to expose the problems that need to be addressed to keep such tragedies from happening again. At times, the book provokes mixed feelings about who the "good guys" and "bad guys" are, and that is most true when it comes to the border patrol on the American side and the coyotes on both sides.
While the border patrol's primary job is to protect the borders and keep people from illegally crossing into the United States, the reality is that people do get across and many of them die in the desert once they do.
If it was the border patrol's job to apprehend lawbreakers, it was equally their duty to save the lost and dying.
The confusion for those crossing illegally was equally apparent once this particular group is hopelessly lost and dying:
The Border Patrol! Their nemesis. They'd walked into hell trying to escape the Border Patrol, and now they were praying to get caught.
This mixed view of the American authorities and the dual obligation to both protect the borders and keep human beings from dying is the crux of the matter, and there is no easy answer or fix to the dilemma.
Thousands of dollars are spent trying to keep people like the Yuma 14 from crossing the border; however, once they are here they must be dealt with by the hospitals and government. Once this particular group is in America, the sick are treated and the corpses are prepared for the trip back to Mexico. The United States government spent nearly a hundred thousand dollars to fly the corpses back home. Once they leave here, however, they are once again virtually nameless entities which no longer matter--as noted by the files, incorrectly identifying these Mexican men as white males, stuck in a pile with hundreds of other such files.
The system in both countries is broken. Mexico is not doing enough to give its people opportunities to thrive there, and the United States sends a mixed message, at best, about its border. This final image says it all. These men did not matter before they arrived, they caused a small flurry of attention while they were here, but they did not even matter enough to be correctly identified by their ethnicity--which is, ironically, one of the reasons they were not welcome here.
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