The Devil's Highway

by Luis Alberto Urrea

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The Devil's Highway Summary

The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea is a nonfiction book about Mexican migration into the United States.

  • Urrea retells the tragic story from May of 2001 when a group of men attempted to cross the U.S. border.
  • They traversed the deadliest region in North America, the Devil's Highway. Twenty-six men entered the region, and only twelve people survived.
  • In his telling, Urrea reveals the lives and motivations of the men involved, as well as the deeper historical forces underlying their actions.

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The Devil’s Highway, written by journalist Luis Alberto Urrea, is a true story about Mexican migration into the United States. It retells the tragic story from May of 2001 when a group of men attempted to cross the U.S. border. After entering the desert of Arizona, they endured the deadliest region in North America, the Devil’s Highway. The Border Patrol does not even travel through it. Twenty-six men entered the region, and only twelve people survived. It was the largest group of border-event deaths in history.

This story became an international tragedy after it focused attention on the heartbreak and astounding physical trials of such a journey. The Yuma-14 (or the Wellstone 26), as the group is called, also shed light on the problems of U.S. immigration and the complex relationship between the United States and Mexico.

Urrea focuses on the individual subjects and the circumstances that brought them to make the decision to cross the border and risk death. Most readers can comprehend that life may be better in the United States than in Mexico, but how much better? The desperation can be counted out in pesos—not enough can be earned to eat, have shelter, buy clothes, or have any opportunity for an education for children within Mexico. Large families are the elderly person’s retirement plan.

From the small towns south of the border, Urrea introduces readers to each illegal immigrant and the guides. He invests the reader in their hopes and dreams. Urrea reaches back to Mexico and its roots: Native American tribes, Spanish explorers and missionaries, and smugglers and human traffickers. All represent a complex set of values: religion, money, superstition, native Indian culture, and black magic. Most of all, Urrea draws attention to the Coyotes, or guides, who work like gang members to get ahead. The group of walkers, or illegals, put their lives into the Coyotes' hands. In this case, the Coyotes lead them to a desperate trail that results in unimaginable physical hardship, disorientation, and death for most of them. The Devil’s Highway is a remarkable story of human fortitude, courage, and utter bafflement.

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