In The Devil's Highway, what challenges do migrants have to face?

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The Devil's Highway is a work of non-fiction and investigative reporting that chronicles the journey of 26 men who attempted to cross the border between the U.S and Mexico in May of 2001. They had, for the most part, come from a region thousands of miles to the south...

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The Devil's Highway is a work of non-fiction and investigative reporting that chronicles the journey of 26 men who attempted to cross the border between the U.S and Mexico in May of 2001. They had, for the most part, come from a region thousands of miles to the south in the state of Veracruz, MX.

The men who survived became known as the Yuma 14 because that is the number who died in the Border Patrol sector of Yuma, Arizona.

The challenges these men faced included a long journey from their verdant home in the mountainous region of central-west Mexico by bus. They were sponsored by a local smuggling kingpin who had collected money to make sure they reached La Frontera (the border) in a town called Sonoyta, just south of the border patrol checkpoint in Lukeville, AZ.

The men faced the challenge of the long bus journey, then the challenge of acclimating to their way station in Sonoyta and finding supplies. They were given little useful information about how long their journey across the border would take, so although they bought gallons of water, some also bought Pepsi. They stayed in Sonoyta just long enough to become acquainted with their leader.

They were led across the border by a criminal called Mendez, nicknamed The Rooster for the lock of red hair that fell in front of his eyes.

So far, the men had only been challenged by coming up with several hundreds of dollars each (although they were asked to give more at various times throughout the journey) and taking a long trip into the unknown.

Now they were challenged by being lied to with inadequate information.

Next, they were led across a dusty stretch with no real fence to mark the border and were now challenged by being entirely dependent on Mendez to lead them.

They faced a long walk, no information, and no way to operate independently.

As the day continued, the heat rose to an unseasonably high 115 degrees, so they faced all that goes with heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

When they were found, 30 miles north of the US border, they were many miles from any outpost of civilization in an area of the Cabez Prieta wilderness. They had by then faced being ripped off, lied to, and abandoned in the desert. They faced heat of 115 degrees, ran out of water, and were lost.

Due to the heat, they were all disoriented and desperate.

When they were rescued by the Border Patrol, many faced death; 12 survived all of these challenges. The survivors, in some cases, lost family members. They then faced deportation, and many also went to trial to testify against Mendez and others.

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Mexican migrants face a number of serious obstacles in getting to the United States. For one thing, they have to cross the aptly-named Devil's Highway, which involves traversing mountainous terrain and dealing with extreme heat. The appalling tragedy of the Yuma 14, who died of exposure trying to cross the border, is a stark illustration of the challenges involved.

An additional challenge is that migrants cannot place their trust, for obvious reasons, in governmental authorities on either side of the border. This means that they're often forced to rely on gangs of people smugglers such as the Coyotes, who regard their human cargo in much the same way as drugs or bootleg alcohol: as illicit commodities to be spirited across the border for money. As all these gangs care about is the money they'll make from people smuggling, they pay no attention whatsoever to the migrants' welfare.

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I think perhaps the clearest description of the challenges that migrants face who are trying to enter the States illegally is shown in the opening paragraph of this powerful text. Note how the five men are depicted and what this says about the dangers implicit in trying to take the Devil's Highway into the States:

Five men stumbled out of the mountian pass so sunstruck they didn't know their own names, couldn't remember where they'd come from, had forgotten howlong they'd been lost... They were burned nearly black, their lips huge and cracking, what paltry drool still available to them spuming from their mouths in a salty foam as they walked. Their eyes were cloudy with dust, almost too dry to blink up a tear... They were drunk from having their brains baked in the pan, they were seeing God and devils, and tehy were dizzy from drinking their own urine, the poisons clogging their systems.

One of the most horrific aspects of this text is the way that Urrea spares nothing in terms of describing the impact of dehydration on the human body. He goes into exact and precise detail of each stage of this process, imagining what the walkers might be thinking and feeling and focusing in on their internal organs and what is happening inside of them. This is by far the biggest challenge facing migrants choosing to enter the States through this way, as the many corpses that litter this patch of desert amply demonstrate. The territory is described variously as "unforgiving" and "relentless" and "vast," and for a human to choose to walk through it would be a very big risk indeed.

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