The Devil's Highway

by Luis Alberto Urrea

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How is the border patrol described in The Devil's Highway, Chapter 1?

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Urrea provides the border patrol agents with plentiful compassion. There is little acknowledgment that border patrol agents have chosen to take a position that directly involves destroying undocumented people's chances at escaping the economically-driven violence that is a direct result of U.S. imperialism and globalization. The border patrol agents are essentially described as having difficult jobs in which they must endure the trauma of intercepting undocumented people along their journey. The agents seems to have zero awareness that they are directly contributing to the suffering of undocumented people and, instead, describe how difficult their lives are as border patrol agents. It is rather disappointing to see such compassion be extended towards people who choose to take jobs that cause so much pain and suffering towards others who are already in incredibly marginalized and dangerous positions. The border patrol agents seem to neglect to realize that the coyotes that they so despise only exist because of national borders in which people can not freely move. Without borders, and without people dedicated to patrolling and policing those borders, smugglers would not exist. It is particularly horrible to think about how border patrol agents on the U.S.-Mexico border are policing the movement of people who are, for the most part, ancestrally indigenous or partially indigenous to this continent, in which a national border was constructed from state violence and genocide.

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The Devil's Highway tells the story of illegal immigrants, Border Patrol agents, and coyotes (human smugglers who guide people from Mexico to the United States). Most of all, the book talks about the Yuma 14 (or Wellstone 26): the Yuma 14 are the only survivors out of 26 men who bravely try to cross the Devil's Highway. The Devil's Highway is a dangerous road on the Arizona border filled with unknown dangers and few water resources. Men have died there searching for moisture to alleviate their desperate thirst:

Men tore their faces open chewing saguaros and prickly pears, leaving gutted plants that looked like animals had torn them apart with their claws. The green here was gray.

Urrea tells us that the Border Patrol agents at Wellton Station are often military men.

...they are spit-and-polish. Their trucks are clean and new; their uniforms are sharp; and their offices are busy but generally squared away.

Many agents commute quite a distance to get to their stations every day. The long drive mentally prepares them for their stressful jobs.

Drives of twenty, forty, even seventy miles are common. But the trips to and from work afford them a period of quiet, of wind-down or wind-up time. It is not always easy to leap from bed and go hunt people.

Urrea tells us that the Border Patrol agents are "plain-spoken and politically incorrect" officers who police the borders, and that they are deeply affected by the suffering of the immigrants. The agents feel that the worse deaths are those of women and children, of young pregnant mothers, and nursing mothers with babies still attached to their breasts. However, the agents are most angry with coyotes who betray their human trust and abandon their charges to the merciless desert and to certain death. Urrea relates to us that agents who have worked at least ten years in the border world are able to provide the most accurate picture of the border crisis. Border patrolling is a hard job; Urrea tells us that civilians often don't trust Border agents, and even confuse them with INS Border guards. Along with everything else, agents also have to face intense scrutiny from many sources.

Chicanos don’t like you. Liberals don’t like you. Conservatives mock and insult you. And politicians…politicians are the enemy.

Urrea portrays the Border Patrol agents as men who want to interact normally with immigrants; however, good intentions are often overshadowed by the threat of sexual harassment lawsuits, and the agents have to be careful that they do not give off the wrong vibes.

All in all, Urrea's narrative on the Border Patrol is one filled with compassion and searing honesty. Thanks for the question.

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