Who or what is responsible for the death of the group known as the Yuma 14 in The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea? 

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Luis Alberto Urrea's book The Devil's Highway is a true account which chronicles the stories of the border crossings by the group which is now known as the Yuma 14. Twenty-six Mexican men and their guides left Mexico for the United States; fourteen of them died.

The question of blame is a complicated one, full of many "ifs," but the blame must start in Mexico. If things were better for the people there, they would not be willing to take such great risks to improve their lives. Most of the men, known as the Wellstone 26, were only planning to go work in America for a specific time and purpose, knowing it was the quickest way for them to improve their homes, their children's educations, and their futures. “Even the gringo trash [in America] is better than anything else they can buy.” Mexico does not work as hard as it could to keep its citizens from trying to cross the border.

The guides (called coyotes) responsible for leading the men across the border and safely to their new lives in America are also to blame. They were careless, irresponsible, and inexperienced. These three things led directly to the deaths, and one of the guides dies, as well. If these men were not motivated by money, things might have been different. Mendez, the surviving coyote, had been arrested seven times before, but clearly he was undeterred by this.

The men, too, have to take some responsibility for their deaths. They trusted too much and continued their plan even when things began to fall apart, which they did even before they left Mexico. Their dreams and desperation for something better are commendable; if they had not allowed those two things to override their innate sense that things were not right, they might not have begun the journey.

In the end, the United States must take the blame because the deaths happened here. Humanitarian organizations have begun leaving water at strategic points (known to be pick-up points for border-crossers) and the border patrol is now broadcasting helpful messages over radio towers in an attempt to avoid loss of life. Despite these efforts, the consensus, according to Urrea, is that nothing much has changed.

Border issues are complex, as evidenced by the country's inability to   find workable and acceptable solutions to the problems. The blame for the deaths of the Yuma 14 is equally complex.


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The Devil's Highway

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