The Devil's Highway

by Luis Alberto Urrea
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What is the reason that undocumented migrants from Mexico risk their lives to enter America? (Use the anecdotal evidence from The Devil's Highway.)

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In Luis Alberto Urrea’s book, The Devil’s Highway: A True Story , the writer recounts 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 Devil’s Highway is a dangerous desert in Mexico...

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In Luis Alberto Urrea’s book, The Devil’s Highway: A True Story, the writer recounts 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 Devil’s Highway is a dangerous desert in Mexico and southern Arizona. The region is so dangerous that the Border Patrol refuses to patrol it. After their coyote abandoned the group, only 12 men survived.

Urrea’s investigative reporting on the tragedy takes the reader to the hometowns of Mexicans who risk their lives crossing the border. He tries 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 little upward mobility and a sense that they lack opportunities. Jobs that provide financial independence appeal to them.

These men ultimately chose to take the dangerous journey north for two reasons. They seek new job opportunities to make extra money. They want money to give their families in Mexico. These men also seek to break out of the oppressive culture that permeates Mexico. Their culture does not offer new job opportunities. It 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 America.



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Particularly since the enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1993 that destroyed the livelihoods of Mexican and indigenous people across Mexico, undocumented immigration into the United States has substantially increased. The economic policies of the United States, through enormous financial pacts such as NAFTA, have directly resulted in the poverty that fuels desperate economic refugees and asylum seekers from Mexico to make incredibly deadly border crossings. Even if one lives to cross the desert and into the United States, the border patrol and vigilante white supremacists are eager to capture migrants and lock them in cages where they await further criminalization of poverty and eventual deportation.

In addition to economic reasons, Mexican migrants may also attempt to cross the border due to political repression. Through NAFTA and other capitalist economic projects, many indigenous people have lost commonly held lands they depended on and held ancestral connection with for generations. When indigenous groups have banded together to fight the theft and destruction of their lands they have faced brutal repression, incarceration, torture, and death at the hands of both the state and paramilitary organizations. Many of these paramilitary and police organizations represent the interests of American and Mexican companies that have destroyed the livelihoods of indigenous and poor Mexican farmers. Migrants have sought to escape this political repression only to face more repression at the hands of the United States and vigilantes on the northern side of this genocidal, man-made border.

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Undocumented migrants from Mexico have several reasons to risk their lives to enter America.

The primary reason why people risk their lives to enter the United States is economic. They hope to earn money for themselves and their families back home. In an effort to stem the tide of immigration, Mexico recently increased its minimum wage to $5 a day—a 16 percent increase. In addition, Mexico's new president wants to double the minimum wage in northern states next to America.

Mexico's endemic violence is another reason that motivates immigrants. The country has a high homicide rate; journalists are often murdered for simply doing their jobs.

A third reason for for immigration is corruption. Well-connected Mexicans control the government, education, utilities, and all segments of Mexican society. Ordinary Mexicans are often forced to pay bribes to receive services.

Finally, geography plays a key role. The US and Mexico share a long border, which means that the points of access are numerous (though, often, extremely dangerous).

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The undocumented migrants who risk their lives to come to the United States do so for a number of reasons. Basically, these reasons can be summed up by saying that they are seeking a better life for themselves and their families, and they believe it is worth the risk of getting caught—or worse, as we see in The Devil's Highway. The Wellton 26 all sought to leave Veracruz and come to the United States for these economic and social reasons. Most hoped to come to the United States to get jobs as agricultural laborers, jobs that would provide money to help them live better lives back in Veracruz. The needs they hoped to meet were basic ones: a new roof, new furniture, school tuition, medical care, and other basics that many middle-class Americans take for granted. These were the "pull" factors. The "push" factors were also powerful for some of the men. Veracruz was itself awash with immigrants from Central America and was experiencing serious inflation. Even basic consumer goods were unaffordable. So the place where the Wellton 26 (or the Yuma 14, the name given by the media to the men who died) came from caused many of them to look to the United States as a place of opportunity. These factors helped bring the men into an area Urrea describes as "the most terrible place in the world."

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