The Devil's Highway is journalist/author Luis Alberto Urrea's account of an incident which happened in May 2001 on a strip of borderland between Arizona and Mexico, along a path which is aptly named "The Devil's Highway." This strip of land is a virtual death trap for those who finds themselves there, from white tourists to Mexican immigrants.
The Devil's Highway has become a prime location for the human traffickers, known as Coyotes, to bring unwitting Mexicans across the border. It is deadly, and it has been the sight of many border-crossing and other tragedies. The group of hopeful immigrants started as the Wellton 26, but the 14 people who died in this crossing are known as the Yuma 14.This is undoubtedly the worst known tragedy to occur in this lethal place.
While Urrea spends most of his time explaining the stories and atrocities of the event, he also writes in an effort to effect change. In the last chapter of his book, "Home," he reasserts several arguments he has made throughout the rest of the book.
He argues that, despite the tragedy which became quite well known across the United States, nothing has really changed and it's America's fault. It's true that, for a time, things did improve. Immigrants were treated more humanely, especially in this border-crossing spot, but that was short-lived.
A few months later the country was shaken by the events of 9/11 and once again the issue of safety at the borders created a renewed atmosphere of resentment. Border security was increased because of the new Homeland Security initiatives. In fact, Urrea claims that even now the
depravity of the border churns ahead in a parade of horrors.
In short, even a tragedy of this magnitude has not served as an agent of change. The atrocities on both sides of the border continue, though Urrea places most of the blame on the United States. Perhaps this is a valid point, as we claim to stand for the value of all human life.
Throughout the book he makes a nominal case that Mexico is not doing enough to offer its people what they need to live; however, in the last chapter he places the blame squarely on America. He wonders what might have happened if we'd invested the thousands of dollars we spent trying to make things right (for burials and flights) in this one case on making life better in the Mexican villages across the border. (Of course there is another point of view to this argument, but Urrea does not present it.)
One other key argument he reiterates in the final chapter of this book is that everyone has a story, but Americans rarely make any effort to hear it. Life for the the typical Mexican citizen is drudgery, and for that drudgery he is paid next to nothing. Urrea claims the Wellton 26 were not coming here with any intentions to stay or become a burden; instead, they simply wanted to provide some essentials for their family and were willing to take a risk to do so.
Even more, he claims that Arizona actually benefits economically from illegal immigrants.
- Mexican immigrants paid nearly $600 million in federal taxes and sales taxes in 2002.
- The total buying power of Arizona's Mexican immigrants is estimated at $4.18 billion. The state's Mexican immigrants spend an estimated $1.5 billion in mortgage payments and rents annually.
- Arizona gets $8 billion in economic impact annually from the relationship with Mexico.
Both sides have some fault, but Urrea believes America is primarily to blame. Even this horrible tragedy has not effected a significant change