Chapter 1 Summary
The Rules of the Game
The Devil’s Highway is a barren, scorched road on the border of Arizona. It is riddled with spirits, the plants are spiked and poisonous, and the animals are alien, nocturnal, and poisonous. In some places, boulders have been arranged as secret signs by both travelers and the Border Patrol. Surprisingly, the northward immigration was a “white phenomenon.” In the 1880s, railroad barons needed cheap labor and enticed Chinese workers to migrate from Mexico. Now, Muslims are proselytizing just across the border, and many of the illegals are actually indigenous Indians who live in abject poverty.
On January 18, 1541, the first death on The Devil’s Highway was recorded, though surely others had died before then. The Catholics and Jesuits inhabited the land in the 1600s and death followed them, too. The gold rush in the 1800s marked the “modern era of death.” The Devil’s Highway was still just a dirt path, but thousands came to find riches. Piles of human bones (now buried) show that many died on the journey. Others were slaughtered by rogue Mexican armies which wanted their belongings. Soon this place was known as “the most terrible place in the world,” a place of haunting and demonic activity.
Five Mexican men stumble onto The Devil’s Highway, parched and delirious, so desperate that they are not afraid to approach a Border Patrol car. One of the men steps forward. Mike F. is the agent in the car and he calls for help. Bad people appear here regularly; many of them are dying and most of them are in trouble. Agent Mike gives the men water (which they throw up), and one man claims there are seven more men behind them dying. Another says that there are thirty men, and a third claims there are seventy. Border Patrol has been worried that an apocalypse is coming, and Mike F. fears this is might be it.
This part of the border is patrolled by fifteen hundred agents, along with lights, sensors, fences, cameras, and checkpoints. Illegals die here of many things; more than two thousand have died in the past fifty years. The five men were abandoned by their Coyote (human-smuggler), and this incites the Border Patrol to act. The agents of the Wellton Station speak Spanish and love their country; they are the “good guys.”
The Devil’s Highway originates at the Mexican border and the road is dragged smooth every few days so footprints can...
(The entire section is 512 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
Veracruz, which means “The True Cross,” is located between the mountains and the sea in southern Mexico. The people are poor no matter how hard they work. Before the wave of northern illegal immigration, workers stayed and tourism flourished. The people can afford less as prices continue to rise, and families continue to grow. People are hungry, and in “the economy of hunger,” more babies means a better chance of survival; even if one in five dies, four will survive and becomes workers. There are not even enough beans to eat, for they are all shipped to the United States; only the recycled bean sacks make their way to Veracruz to be used for curtains.
All of Mexico is suffering, spending eighty cents on every earned dollar on foreign debt; all the illegal narcotics money stays in the “clandestine mansions.” As men migrate north to work, some money begins to arrive from the United States, and men come home in big American cars and trucks. They fill their vehicles at a Goodwill in Texas and sell everything for twice as much in Mexico. Once their wares are sold, they sell the vehicles, too. Rural black markets are common, and some people are beginning to have contact with the rest of the world through satellite television and the Internet. Some women come home with “babies who were supposedly American citizens.”
Meanwhile, the neighbors of these entrepreneurs are dying. Rampant disease and spreading violence cause people to look north, and they turn to Don Moi Garcia, a recruiter for the northern Coyotes. He is a grandfatherly “walking ad for the good life.” He is a kind of Robin Hood for the people of Veracruz. Four thousand men have already left and more are preparing to go. It costs twenty thousand pesos to cross safely; however, “if they’re man enough to walk in the desert” they can save seven thousand pesos. The men take out loans with an unscrupulous man, Chespiro, who charges fifteen percent interest—compounded monthly. People are too afraid not to pay this friend of Don Moi.
Reymundo Barreda Maruri wants to go north to be able to reroof his house as a gift for his wife. His son, Reymundo Junior, is good student and local soccer star; he begs to go with his father so they can also buy her new furniture. The trip is a “gesture of love.” Nahum Landa is Reymundo’s twenty-year-old brother-in-law, a natural survivor and a leader. Enrique...
(The entire section is 501 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
The Coyote and the Chicken
The Border Patrol and the Mexican consular corps often work together because each has a “deep distrust of its own government” and despise Coyotes, the human smugglers who regularly traffic across the border. Although Mexican soldiers are paid to patrol the Mexico side of the border, they undoubtedly are paid more by the Coyotes and rarely are seen. For a time, the Mexican government offered survival kits, including condoms, to all walkers, but the American government stopped the program.
Fifteen hundred walkers a day leave Mexico near the Devil’s Highway. Newspapers later report that a group of walkers called the Wellton 26 crossed the border somewhere between Yuma and Nogales. There is little there to keep any walkers from crossing—perhaps a “drooping bit of wire fence” or a small sign advising that crossing the border into America is prohibited.
The process is similar for all who illegally enter the United States. The smugglers tell the walkers that it is a simple “day’s walk to their pickup point.” Often that is the case, and once they cross, the illegals go to places like North Carolina (to make cigarettes) or Chicago.
Men like Don Moi do business in Altar, where busloads or vanloads of walkers are randomly dispersed. Several of the Wellton 26 stopped in Altar, where their disastrous journey began. (Now, thanks to Operation Gatekeeper, a border fence extends into the ocean in the west and stops somewhere in the wastelands of deserts and mountains. Suburbs have “sprung up” in “regions formerly notorious as a human hunting ground.” The walkers who once crossed here now have to move east and have two thousand miles of desert from which to choose.)
Altar is the largest center for illegal immigration along the entire border. Coyotes are known in Altar as "polleros"—chicken wranglers. These criminals are so powerfully entrenched that any walkers without a pollero must pay a fee just to enter the desert.
The Yuma 14 (the 14 members of the Wellton 25 who died) were lured into the desert and then abandoned by an operation run by Luis Cercas. His brother Daniel, known as “Chespiro,” never meets them but takes their money and gives the orders that determine their travel route.
El Negro is part of the Cercas family and guide for the Yuma 14. It is an intimidating chain of command, from Chespiro...
(The entire section is 484 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
“Three guides led the Wellton 26 into the desert: one will forever remain anonymous, one is only known by a code name, and one became infamous in the borderland.” Guides (guìas) are generally paid a hundred dollars per person to lead people across the border and never reveal their names so they cannot be identified.
The guides for the Wellton 26 did very few things right; one of them is that they did not give their walkers cocaine or other drugs to help them walk faster and longer.
The leader is a nineteen-year-old Guadalajaran boy. If his clients had not died, he would have earned three hundred dollars for this job. It is the largest group he has ever guided. He wears his hair in an easily identifiable “punk rock style” that both the survivors and the Border Patrol agents distinctly remember.
The Unites States agents refer to him as “Rooster Boy,” and he has been deported at least once. He lives with his girlfriend in a run-down house in Sonoita with his girlfriend, Celia Lomas Mendez. They sleep on a mattress on the floor. He and his friends have nothing, not even modern plumbing, although they all have pagers and cell phones.
“Every week, walkers are left to die by their guias.” It is a standard practice by Coyotes. Border Patrol agents as well as the Mexican consular corps have plenty of horrific tales to tell. One driver’s van breaks down thirty miles from the interstate. He tells his passengers it is an easy five-mile walk and sends them off before setting the van on fire. He says he will be back to get them with another van, but of course he never returns. Many walkers in that group die, including a nineteen-year-old pregnant woman.
In 2002, a pollero driver has twenty-three passengers in his van when he drives the wrong way on the interstate; he drives without lights to avoid a Border Patrol checkpoint. The van demolishes four cars before stopping. The van driver dies along with four illegals and one innocent driver. Some reports claim there were thirty-three passengers, some of whom were likely Brazilian.
The guìa is twenty-five-year-old Alfredo Alvarez Coronado; he is paid three hundred dollars per group of travelers, equal to one month’s salary working in the fields in Mexico. Thirty-one illegals end up in the hospital and, of course, the recruiting organization does not offer to pay their bills. Any...
(The entire section is 480 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
Jesús Walks Among Us
The Border Patrol knows him as Rooster Boy, but his name is Jesús. He once lived in southern Mexico and now lives in Nogales, Sonora, which is a “lively little town” just across the border from Nogales, Arizona. He works hard but gets little for his labor and wants something better.
In 2000, he meets eighteen-year-old Rodrigo Maradona. They work in a brickyard during the day; at night, Maradona has a more interesting job working part time as a Coyote, earning a hundred dollars for each walker he takes across the border—a thousand dollars a week, compared to Jesús’ hundred dollars a week. Maradona tells Jesús he can become a gangster (the term used by Coyotes for one another), too.
Jesús is not noteworthy in any way except for his “cool” haircut. It is “quite attractive to people like him to become a Coyote.” He has money, a house, and a cell phone; he even has a patron saint, Saint Toribio, who claimed that he was a citizen of a “church without borders.” The young men convince themselves they are civil rights activists liberating the poverty-stricken class. Others see them as macho outlaws the governments of two countries are trying to stop.
Much of the Devil’s Highway is militarized. An Air Force base, shared with Marines, is on the border; Air National Guard aircraft regularly fly over the area. Beside the base is the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument; the Organ Pipe is the most dangerous national park in the United States.
Tribal police from several reservations patrol the border and local sheriffs patrol one hundred and fifty miles of border; Pinal Air Park is also patrolled. Native American trackers help the Border Patrol, DEA, and INS agents work the border. Citizen groups also regularly work the desert, as do various human rights groups trying to save walkers from dying.
Jesús and Maradona wait for Chespiro to call. Maradona knows the walking route, but Jesús does not; Maradona teaches him. Chespiro sends some illegals, and the two Coyotes herd them to a bus bound for Sanoita. He drops them at El Saguaro and the entire group steps into the United States, about thirty miles from Wellton.
They begin walking at sunset and Maradona is confident, although it is hotter than expected. They stop at the Mohawk rest areas for water and...
(The entire section is 499 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
Jesús and Maradona stay at the Mexican border Hotel San Antonio in Sonoita, where Chespiro keeps rooms permanently booked, and wait for a call. It is a horrible place. El Negro comes himself to place the boys with their local mentors.
The new smuggling route is dangerous, anywhere from 35 to 65 miles long, depending on the eventual destination of the walkers. El Negro’s scouts cut a trail that should get them where they need to be in two days, three at the most; if they have to detour, there are several million acres of possibilities. The terrain here is more difficult with very few water sources—and neither Jesús nor Maradona knows where to find them.
Between training runs, Jesús and Maradona stay in their hotel room during the day and go out drinking at night. Jesús meets and falls in love with Celia Mendez, and soon he moves into her house while Maradona rents a room nearby. Jesús assumes Celia’s name, Mendez, as his alias.
El Negro’s plan is for walkers to arrive by bus in groups of fifteen or twenty; they will stay in the hotel until the night before they depart, then spend a night in a boarding room run by Nelly (which El Negro owns).
“The Saturday before the fatal walk begins,” Mendez and Maradona take a group across the Devil’s Highway. It is a long and arduous but uneventful trip. They travel over Bluebird Pass and arrive at one of El Negro’s outposts with a water tank; they rest and wait for their pickup.
Instead, a Border Patrol car picks them up. Maradona and one pollo escape while Mendez and the other twelve walkers are apprehended. The Border Patrol does not recognize Mendez, or the Yuma 14 might not have died. From then on, that water stop is always a risk.
Three brothers were in that group; they beg El Negro for another chance to cross. On May 19, the brothers join the group of walkers already gathered at the rooming house. In Veracruz, Don Moi’s walkers board a bus. Only a few have any belongings, some have lunch, and the group is in good spirits as the journey begins.
Everyone gawks as they near Mexico City, looking for UFOs along the way; often the bus drives parallel to the Devil’s Highway, and the land on the other side of the border looks just the same to them. The names of the towns here are dangerous and unfamiliar, but the men are still laughing and in good spirits....
(The entire section is 501 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
A Pepsi for the Apocalypse
Perhaps this is how Mendez’s day began on Saturday, May 19. He wakes early at Celia’s house in a noisy barrio. The temperature only dropped to 89 degrees last night, and it is hot at seven o’clock this morning; Mendez is already sweaty. He is no longer frightened, but he is apprehensive, as always.
Maradona is late, so Mendez goes to his friend’s house to get him; however, Maradona’s doors are locked and his windows are too dark and dirty to see through. “Mendez will always wonder what happened to his homeboy.”
Maradona is the one with experience, so Mendez calls El Negro, who says he will “handle it.” Mendez goes to Nelly’s boarding house to pick up his walkers. The brothers from Guerrero recognize Mendez from last week’s failed trip. The walkers at Nelly’s eat breakfast that morning, not knowing that half of them will be dead soon.
Santos, one of Maradona’s replacements, is fat and obviously not suited to hiking; the other, Lauro, is skinny and looks like a bandido. The gangsters tell the walkers to buy some water for the trip—a bottle ought to be enough. The men buy chocolates, salted prunes, and sweetened chili paste in plastic envelopes; a few buy Pepsi, thinking a cold bottle of Pepsi would be refreshing in the desert heat. At 11:45, Mendez tells his walkers to “look NORMAL” as they board the bus.
As they drive into the United States, the men joke, boasting and daydreaming about what lies ahead of them. At the checkpoint, soldiers board the bus but ignore the walkers before waving the bus on.
Mendez has the driver stop at El Papalote, although the driver is willing to take them to a nearby rest area instead of this desolate nowhere. The United States border is less than a hundred yards away, but no one tells the walkers. Suddenly one of the Coyotes announces that they are in the United States; it looks remarkably similar to Mexico.
They walk a bit before Mendez says he has to go get their ride, and the men wait. A grey Dodge Ram appears and the entire group is crammed inside it. The ride takes ninety minutes, although the survivors later testify that it was a two- to four-hour ride, no doubt because it felt that long to them in their discomfort. The driver, El Moreno, finally deposits them near a big rock and heads back to Mexico.
Mendoza says they will walk by night;...
(The entire section is 494 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
Bad Step at Bluebird
It is brutal walking for even the youngest and fittest walkers. The men grumble, but Mendez knows La Migra cannot catch them if they stay in the mountains and cliffs. They cannot be seen by air, and Border Patrol agents will not hike after them. So, they keep climbing.
Mendez is younger than all but one walker and keeps them marching. The Coyotes whistle as they walk so they do not have to talk or listen to the complaints. (This is the beginning of days of walking, and the pollos begin to “lose themselves,” forgetting any of the names and locations they might have heard.) Mendez leads them from his Coyote map of “landmarks etched with transient memory” without proper names.
They are headed to Bluebird Pass, twenty miles north of El Papalote, but there is no direct route to get there; on a map, this journey looks like the marks made by a giant protractor, curving in wide arcs miles from their destination. At Bluebird Pass, Mendez hopes to find the lights of Ajo at night and get back on a familiar track. At eleven thirty, everything changes. Mendez will later blame everything on the Border Patrol, the Border Patrol will claim Mendez is “making up stories,” and the survivors are clueless, though they remember being “scattered by light.” In any case, Mendez shouts “La Migra” when he sees approaching lights, and the pollos run. Mendez later claims they were followed by whoever lit them up before the vehicle drove away. Trying to catch or scatter walkers before they are arrested is a common practice. “Illuminating a group of thirty walkers, however, and then letting them go is not the practice of anyone with authority.”
The only certainty is that at eleven thirty at Bluebird Pass, lights panicked Mendez and his pollos followed him, many dropping bags, hats, and life-saving water. Mendez says the road they need to be on is just over the hill. It is not. Mendez is irrevocably lost and does not have the skills to get his bearings again, but he simply marches ahead. Later, the signcutters who retrace his steps see that always took the lead and the men shuffled and groaned as they straggled behind him. Each painful moment is recorded in the signs as the men grow more delirious and eventually die. The signcutters can see the path of each man’s death or survival.
Mendez’s left leg is not quite as strong as his right, so he does not walk...
(The entire section is 501 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
Killed by the Light
It is Sunday at six o’clock in the morning on the Sonoran Dessert, and it is already hot. Mendez insists he is not lost, but the workers doubt him because he is leading them back across the Growlers, a mountain range they have already crossed. The mountains collect the light and “pour it on them like lava.”
It is not only Mexicans who die in the desert; campers, off-roaders, and others also succumb. In June 2002, one couple enjoys a day of dune-buggying; however, the buggy breaks down and both die. He made it two hundred yards and she never left the buggy; neither was found for more than two days. One month later, another couple suffers the same fate near the Devil’s Highway where they go for a walk without enough water. He dies within sight of his car.
There are six stages of death from hyperthermia (heat death): Heat Stress, Heat Fatigue, Heat Syncope, Heat Cramps, Heat Exhaustion, and Heat Stroke. Heat Stress is a general discomfort which many have experienced when they get overheated. Heat Fatigue causes the body to sweat excessively and everything feels as if it is burning—because it is. The desert air dries the sweat and causes everything inside and outside the body to dry up. Heat Syncope is evident when the person has a fever (from the outside) but is actually getting colder. Speech becomes slurred and ideas are difficult to formulate. Confusion begins to erase who the person once was, just as the name of this stage implies (syncope denotes contraction).
Heat Cramps are an indicator of serious trouble. The body is depleted of salt and muscles cannot function. Muscle cramps cause everything to hurt and abdominal contractions begin. Eighty percent of people can be saved, even at this stage, with an IV and water; otherwise, this stage is the beginning of a death spiral. Heat Exhaustion is marked by a high fever and nausea, and the elderly and infirm are most likely to die at this stage. The body faints to protect itself and the brain begins to rot. Anyone in this condition can be saved, but he is on the “borderline, standing before the abyss.” Dreams and memories conflate and confusion ensues. Eventually people suffering in this stage of hyperthermia drink their own urine out of desperation. At first their urine is clear and relatively pure; soon, though, the recycled liquid is nearly black with toxins.
(The entire section is 492 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
The Long Walk
It is Sunday, May 20, at dawn. The Wellton 26 survivors are later as unclear about the day’s torments “as they are about where they walked.” The walkers are now in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge area.
As the walkers’ despair grows, so does their rage. They are angry at Mendez, the desert, their own government, the American government, white people (gringos), Don Moi, El Negro—and they are determined that someone is going to pay for their misery once the walkers get out of the desert.
It is clear from evidence discovered later that Mendez knew his pollos were going to die if they did not get to Ajo. (The Border Patrol believes Mendez was only trying to save himself and the walkers just followed.) The Coyote zigzags his walkers in the hopes of finding someplace familiar, and the group no longer has any “real integrity as a unit.” The line of walkers is scraggly and spread out; sometimes they cannot even see the others in their group. Mendez thinks he has found Charlie Bell Pass, which would have funneled directly into downtown Ajo; however, this pass leads only to more burning desert.
Few of the walkers have any water left. The Guerrero brothers have some water but must keep it to ensure the family survives; Mendez has water but refuses to share it. Mendez lets the men rest until nightfall and says it is only a few more miles; the walkers know he is wrong.
The temperature that night is still 94 degrees; since it will not get any cooler, Mendez orders his pollos to their feet. The signs, discovered later, show that Mendez’s brain is beginning to misfire as he erratically sets and changes course. The men are “like a machine breaking down, starting to shake itself apart.”
Even if they had still had water, the men are “lost in the wilderness, small blue dots in a vast empty map.” Mendez loses any remaining sense of direction and leads the group on a “suicidal hike” toward Yuma; the group follows him like zombies. There is no reasoning to their movements as they travel in a giant reverse-U shape twenty miles wide.
Finally someone, perhaps Santos, figures that maybe they can backtrack and just return to Mexico, but Mendez refuses. Most of the men follow Mendez, who is clearly the leader even though he is obviously lost; a handful follow Santos. The others watch them leave. “No trace of them has ever...
(The entire section is 475 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
This is José de Jesús Rodriquez’s first trip to America and he is furious at how the journey has gone. Thirty-year-old Énreque Landeros Garcia is from San Pedro and is walking to provide more for his wife and son; they did not want him to go. He did not have money for the trip, so Don Moi and Chespiro arranged a loan for him, payable once he has employment.
Reyno Bartolo Hernandez, also from San Pedro, is a thirty-seven-year-old coffee farmer who has been married for nineteen years. Don Moi’s organization loaned him eighteen hundred dollars.
Lorenzo Ortiz Hernando has a wife and five children, and they are hoping to have even more. Unfortunately, Hernandez cannot afford everything his family needs because coffee prices are so low; now he is forced to try something else. He borrowed seventeen hundred dollars at fifteen percent interest.
Reymundo Barreda Maruri is fifty-six, the oldest walker in the group, and he is determined to survive because he must keep his son, Reymundo Jr., moving. Nahum Landa Ortiz is related to Maruri and refuses to succumb; he intends to survive. José Antonio Bautista is Ortiz’s nephew and is furious at Mendez for leading the group so poorly.
Edgar Adrian Martinez is only sixteen and left his girlfriend, promising to work for five years and then come back to marry her. He walks with his uncle, José Isidoro Colorado, and his grandfather, Victor Flores Badillo. The hard-working Martinez was earning only four dollars a day in Mexico, and he wants to build his future wife a home.
Twenty-five-year-old Mario Castillo is a coffee and citrus plantation worker. He once worked in Illinois for eight months before being deported. He dreams of building a house for his wife and two children, waiting for him in Veracruz; eventually he wants to own his own bodega and make a good living, but he borrowed nineteen hundred dollars for this trip.
Claudio Marin, Heriberto Tapia, and Javier Santillan walk with Lauro. Santillan is already babbling, his mind beginning to shut down.
Rafael Temish González is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old corn farmer from Apixtla. He lives on a dirt road in a thatched-roof home. He supports his wife and young daughter as well as his mother, his two sisters, and their four daughters. He is going to join some relatives in North Carolina....
(The entire section is 496 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
That Sunday night, Mendez believes they will all die, and even the “stupidest among them” does not believe Mendez knows where they are or where they are going.
On Monday morning, May 21, Mendez awakes with no hope. What happens next depends on who tells the story. Mendez later tells different stories, the survivors each tell a slightly different story, the lawyer tells his version of the story, and La Migra tells another.
For whichever reason, cowardice or altruism, Mendez and Lauro leave the group to find water and take money (that was either requested, collected, or stolen, depending on who tells the story). “Nobody . . . can agree on how much, or how it was collected, or by whom, or for what reason, or when.”
In any case, Mendez leaves with a significant amount of money from the walkers. Prosecutors and law enforcement officials claim Mendez is a murderer, and all the evidence agrees with that conclusion.
Mendez claims that this one time all the evidence is wrong. “Whatever happened, for whatever reason, it happened at dawn on May 21.” Mendez is “scared, worried, even embarrassed.” All he wants to do is leave his pollos and their sneering insults behind him. He and Lauro tell the men to wait for them; he promises he will return with water and help.
It is a tortuous day of waiting. The men’s thirst and pain are screaming at them, and soon they are in a state of delirious dreaming.
Eventually the walkers determine that Mendez is not coming back for them. They debate whether to stay or to go, but eventually they all decide to walk north. That is the direction Mendez went; they reason that he was trying to save himself and they hope to do the same.
They walk and grow more delirious. “Men stumble away toward illusions in the brutal light.” They grow more delusional, and eventually the group disperses across the desert.
Mendez and Lauro continue walking, relieved that the dying men are no longer slowing them down.
(The entire section is 339 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
The Trees and the Sun
After Mendez leaves the walkers to die, the men start walking on their own. At one point they see a Migra truck on patrol, but they are unable to run fast or far enough to reach it.
The heat is unbearable, a “hurricane of sunlight,” and when the men find a few scraggly mesquites, they spread out to capture some of the meager shade. They grab onto the tree trunks to keep themselves in as much shade as possible.
Later, the Border Patrol calculates it took the men twelve hours to walk ten miles. By nightfall Monday, about fifteen of the men have thorns in their feet, according to survivors’ accounts.
In a last effort before their reasoning skills are gone, the men light a great fire, hoping someone will see it while on patrol and rescue the walkers. Reymundo Jr. is “desperately ill,” and several others are near death. The strong ones start the bonfire; although it burns all night, no one comes. Many of them know now that they are dead men and begin secretly to wonder who will be the first among them to die. Some pray to live; others pray to die.
On Tuesday, May 22, the temperature is 108 degrees at two o’clock in the afternoon—and the men walk. The group is fracturing into smaller groups and men begin to drop their belongings, knowing they will soon die anyway. Sixteen-year-old Edgar Martinez is the first to fall, burning with delirium. A mile later, Abraham Morales falls next. No one will claim or identify his body until a month after it was recovered.
The survivors later say they did not know who or how many of the group were dying because they, too, were dying. Other men go crazy in their delirium before dying. One man tears off his shirt and tries to bury himself; another smashes his face into a large cactus and cries out to his mother.
Mario and Isidro Manzano find some prickly pears, and the liquid from these cactus fruits saves their lives. Reymundo dies in his father’s arms. Reymundo Sr. and another man are in such despair that they tear all the American money they had saved into little pieces before giving up and letting the desert claim them. Nahum Landa survives, but later he remembers so many of those around him dying. He is not sure why he survives; perhaps it is a miracle.
(The entire section is 410 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
Mendez and Lauro keep walking, although Lauro is sick. Mendez keeps telling him they are almost there; in desert terms, they are. Since they left the pollos behind, the guias have walked forty miles, a nearly impossible feat in their condition. Even being arrested by the Migra is an appealing thought to them now.
Lauro finally drops. Mendez drops to his knees next to him and attempts to revive him but is not successful, so he takes the money from Lauro’s pocket and tries to get up so he can leave. He cannot do it. Eventually Mendez crawls under a little bush to rest for a bit and falls asleep.
Somehow Wednesday arrives, and the five remaining walkers stumble toward salvation. The three Manzano brothers and Francesco Morales Jimenez hope the Border Patrol will find them. One of the brothers, Efraín, climbs a mountain to “see what he can see,” but he is too weak to come back down and dies there.
The others are dying, too, but Mike F., a Border Patrol agent, is just starting his shift and leaves his home base to start looking for illegals. He sees five men stumble deliriously and he immediately gives them water.
When Mario Manzano can finally speak, he tells Mike F. that his brother is lost in the desert hills. That is when the agent calls in the Bonzai Run. Within ten minutes, the Migra is “fully engaged in rescue.”
Mike F. finds Efraín Manzano but cannot save him. The Border Patrol arrives so quickly over the “vicious terrain” that their vehicles suffer twenty-six flat tires and some arrive at the scene only on the rims.
Marine pilot Major Robert Lack flies over the area looking for other survivors. He lands among scattered bodies and finds ten of them alive; one is dead. Five helicopters help with the hunt, cutting signs and trails from the air and finding bodies both dead and alive.
Reyno Bartolo and Enrique Landeros are dead. José Isidro Colorado and Nahum Landa survive. Abraham Morales Hernandez, Heriberto Baldillo Topia, Lorenzo Ortiz Hernandez, and Lauro are deceased.
Rescuers think Mendez is also dead, but he is alive. Arnulfo Flores, Reymundo Jr. and Sr., and Mario Castillo Fernandez are dead; it is a miracle that sixteen-year-old Edgar Adrian Martinez is still alive, as he was found far from any of the others and had been lying in the heat for days. Just as the rescue...
(The entire section is 424 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
Billions are spent trying to stop illegals at the border; it is too expensive for illegals to return to Mexico, so only thirty percent return after two years.
The Border Patrol, in accordance with a “long-standing federal plan,” tries to leave the survivors at the Yuma hospital without arresting them. If the illegals are brought in for “life-saving purposes,” the hospital must pay the bill; if they are arrested first, the United States government must bear the expenses.
The survivors of the Wellton 26 lay in hospital beds within hours of being rescued. Nine are in fair condition, two are in serious condition, and one is critical. All together, it is an overwhelming string of bodies, dead and alive. Mendez tries not to be recognized and wonders if his pollos will “cover for him.”
Rita Vargas is the Mexican consul in Calexico; she is responsible for the Yuma area and accustomed to dealing with depravity and death. The survivors are overwhelmed and intimidated by so many medical, law enforcement, and government officials hovering around them. They begin their IVs and soon they are able to urinate again.
When they are questioned, the only thing all the survivors tacitly agree on is to blame Mendez for everything. They all wonder who survived but are afraid to ask who has died. They do not even know if Yuma is in Mexico or America, and they are afraid Chespiro will kill their families if they mention any names other than Mendez’s.
They have all been arrested now, but there are no plans to deport them. Their testimonies will ensure that the monster, Mendez, will be punished.
The United States Attorney for the District of Arizona, Paul K. Charlton, is determined to “take Mendez down.” Mendez had been apprehended on seven other occasions, six of them in the summer, and therefore had to be aware of the dangerous heat and the vastness of the desert.
The victims, however, only knew what he told them—that the walk would only take two days, that they would walk only at night, and that they would need water only for a day or two.
Mendez writes a letter asking for “forgiveness and pardon” before explaining his own background and assuring the judge that he only intended to help these men, not abandon them. He nearly died, too, and had no idea what happened to any of them. Charlton insists that...
(The entire section is 492 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
The survivors are called heroes. Getting the corpses ready to be transferred to Mexico costs more than twenty-five thousand dollars; Vargas flies home with them and they are celebrated as martyred heroes.
America is blamed for the tragedy. The flight cost sixty-eight thousand dollars; Vargas wonders what might have happened if that money had been invested in these villages to begin with.
Mendez is in a Phoenix jail but still refuses to talk; he knows he is as dead as those already in the morgue (the Yuma 14) but refuses to name any names. His public defender has difficulty building a defense. When he hears about the bonfire, he claims that a “vast borderland conspiracy” is responsible since no one responded to the fire.
But the survivors are now talking, and all the money Mendez had when the authorities found him is damning evidence that he never meant to return for the walkers. Authorities begin investigating the Cercas gang in both Mexico and America. El Negro is indicted in absentia but flees and becomes a folk hero to the Mexican people.
Jesús Lopez Ramos (Mendez) is now twenty years old and pleads guilty to fourteen counts of illegal immigrant smuggling resulting in death and eleven resulting in “serious bodily injury.” Each count has the potential for the death penalty and up to a 250,000 dollar fine. Mendez admits to everything, pleading guilty in exchange for his life.
In exchange for their testimony, the survivors are granted immunity from prosecution. All of them are given a place to live and jobs in Phoenix.
Since that May of 2001, the “depravity of the border churns ahead in a parade of horrors.” For a short time, the border situation got better, but the events of 9/11 made borders a renewed target of American hatred and fear. Homeland Security sent more enforcement to the borders.
Illegal workers in the United States earn more in one hour that they would working all day in a drudge job in Mexico. Young Mexicans look across the border and see the excesses of American culture and covet everything they see. “Even the gringo trash is better than anything else they can buy.”
The Yuma 14 changed nothing and the atrocities continue; any changes are mostly symbolic. Mendez is in an Arizona prison, and Mike F. is now part of the K-9 corps.
The one truth everyone realizes is...
(The entire section is 489 words.)