In The Devil's Highway, what is the reason undocumented entrants from Mexico risk their lives to enter America?

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Luis Alberto Urrea’s The Devil’s Highway tells the harrowing story of the Yuma 14. In May, 2001, a group of 26 men attempted to cross the Mexican-American border through the Devil’s Highway, the highly dangerous desert in Mexico and southern Arizona. After their coyote abandoned the group, only 12...

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Luis Alberto Urrea’s The Devil’s Highway tells the harrowing story of the Yuma 14. In May, 2001, a group of 26 men attempted to cross the Mexican-American border through the Devil’s Highway, the highly dangerous desert in Mexico and southern Arizona. After their coyote abandoned the group, only 12 men survived. This region is so treacherous that Border Patrol often refuse to travel through the terrain.

Through Urrea’s investigative reporting on the tragedy, he brings the reader back to the hometowns of Mexicans who risk their lives to illegally cross the border to explain the circumstances behind their decision-making process.

The border does not simply separate two countries. It separates two cultures and two distinct ways of life. Many Mexicans grow up in poverty-stricken rural communities connected with unpaved roads. These people grow up with a lack of upward mobility and a general sense that they do not have many opportunities.

Just a few miles to the north, stories of jobs offering financial independence trickle back to the Mexicans. Thus, these men ultimately chose to take the dangerous journey north for two reasons. First, they seek new job opportunities to make extra money which they can send back to their families in Mexico to provide a better life for them.

Second, these men seek to break out of the oppressive culture that permeates Mexico. This culture does not offer new job opportunities. This culture allows gangs and criminals just as much power as law enforcement in specific regions. The idea of living in a more equal society draws people to it.

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Undocumented folks entering the United States through the border (that this nation-state arbitrarily created and genocidally enforces) often travel across the deadly border as economic and political refugees. Particularly, since the passing of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993, subsidized corn and other products entering Mexico—as well as significantly decreased wages across the country due to the influence of American companies—have forced people to seek a source of income from the very country that has largely contributed to the destabilization of the Mexican economy. Additionally, the United States has repeatedly supported right-wing Mexican officials and presidents who brutally repress resistance, particularly from indigenous people in Mexico, such as the Zapatistas.

In The Devil's Highway, Luis Alberto Urrea details how this economic and political oppression forces Mexican people to leave their homes (and often their loved ones) and cross deadly deserts, risking severe punishment, injury or death in order to provide for themselves and their families. Urrea urges people with citizenship to consider the immensely difficult position that undocumented people are forced to contend with—via the political reality of nation-states and borders as well as the harsh realities of crossing deadly terrain and the emotional burden of leaving loved ones behind.

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In The Devil's Highway, Luis Alberto Urrea gives plenty of evidence that the reason undocumented immigrants risk their lives in the desserts of Arizona, which is where the story is focused, is two-fold. First, they cross the devil's highway to get jobs in America. These are often jobs that are lowly and unsought after by American citizens. But the jobs pay enough to live on and many times allow for sending money back across the border to relatives. The second reason is to escape the tumultuous and unforgiving circumstances in Mexico that restrict opportunity. Urrea, a professor of creative writing at the University of Illinois in Chicago, told the story of the Yuma 14 to compel activity from the pro-immigration citizens to help close the devil's highway across the desert.

[eNotes doesn't yet have Study guides for Urrea's The Devil's Highway but below are reliable links to Urrea's Web site, his biography and an NPR interview.]

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