The Devil's Highway

by Luis Alberto Urrea

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Key plot points in The Devil's Highway

Summary:

The Devil's Highway recounts the harrowing journey of 26 Mexican migrants who attempt to cross the U.S. border through the deadly Arizona desert in 2001. Key plot points include their struggle for survival, the extreme conditions they face, and the tragic outcome where only 12 survive. The book also examines the broader issues of immigration, human smuggling, and border policy.

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What is the climax of The Devil's Highway?

The Devil's Highway is a nonfiction work that follows a group of men from Veracruz, Mexico, to a desolate stretch of desert near Ajo, Arizona, far west of Tucson, Arizona, and far east of Yuma, California. The men become known as the Yuma 14 because there are fourteen men who die crossing this area, part of the Yuma Border Patrol area, one hot day in July. The climax comes when the whole group of twenty-six men and their shiftless coyote (guide), Mendez, begin to realize they are in serious danger. Because the narrative alternates between present and past, and follows Border Patrol agents, the coyote, and the Tucson coroner's office as well as the Yuma 14, the climax is difficult to pin down. As the narrative surrounding the demise of these men plays out, a chapter on the six stages of heat stroke provides context on how and why heat kills people. The chapter on heat stroke is not the narrative climax, but it does provide information to contextualize the men's deaths and therefore becomes intertwined with the story's climax. The deaths of these men in chapters 12 and 13 is the true climax of the story, but the sequence of events begins in chapter 10, when Mendez becomes desperate himself, tells the men he'll return, and abandons the group in what is an obvious attempt to save himself.

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What is the climax of The Devil's Highway?

This is a difficult question because The Devil's Highway is told in a kind of flashback. For example, chapter one says five men come out of the desert and are found by a Border Patrol agent; then it backtracks to how they arrived and we meet those five men again in chapter 14. It is also difficult because this is a story of a series of tragedies and missteps, some deliberate and some accidental. If the climax is defined as the moment when everything changes, the author himself says it is when some immigration or other vehicle shines its lights on the nearly exhausted group near Bluebird Pass and they scatter (chapter 8). For me the climax is two chapters later, when their Coyote guide Mendez starts to lose his own reasoning power, collects (perhaps by force) the men's money, and then walks away, promising to return for his group. Of course he had no intention of doing so, and this act clearly marks the beginning of the men's death march. 

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What is the rising action in The Devil's Highway?

The Devil's Highway tells the true story of the Wellton 26, a group of illegal immigrants who cross over the US-Mexico border into the Yuma Desert and get lost when the man smuggling them in, Antonio “Mendez” Lopez Ramos, makes some serious mistakes. Fourteen of these men end up dead in the desert.

Urrea begins with a significant amount of background material so that his readers can better understand the situation. He speaks about the issues of illegal immigrants, describes the activities of the US Border Patrol, and introduces some of the narrative's primary players. He explains how Don Moi Garcia lured the Wellton 26 into illegal immigration through promises of wealth that they could use to care for the families they left behind. He also presents Mendez and his life as a smuggler.

The action begins to rise as Mendez picks up the Wellton 26 at the safe house and leads them out into the desert. Temperatures soar into the triple digits but cool as the group walks along in the dark. Mendez becomes frightened by sudden bright lights, and he leads the group off course and into territory he doesn't know. By the second day of the journey, the group is completely lost.

The action continues to rise as the group runs out of water and begins to experience the effects of the desert's extreme heat. Mendez is going entirely in the wrong direction, but he doesn't know it. Mendez and one of his assistants leave the group to try to find water and help, but they don't return. The group decides to continue moving rather than to wait for Mendez, but members soon begin to die. Finally, five of the stronger men split off to go get help if at all possible. They find the Border Patrol, and the rescue mission begins. Herein lies the story's climax, and what follows resolves the narrative.

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