Every year, hundreds of Mexican immigrants die in the Arizona desert. This year will be no different. Their deaths generally receive little more then a mention in some local papers. But author and poet Luis Alberto Urrea is trying to change that.
In The Devil’s Highway, Urrea
chronicles the ill-fated journey of a group of poor immigrants
— mostly farmers and factory-workers — who set out in
May 2001 on what they thought was a two-day walk to better wages
north of the border. Only 12 of the 26 men who entered the desert
survived the trip; the other 14 died in the 110-degree Sonoran
The trip was doomed from the start, writes
Urrea. The experienced guide, or "coyote," who best knew the
smuggling route skipped out, leaving 19-year-old Jesus Lopez Ramos,
or "Mendez", as he was known to the group, to lead the way. Wrong
turns and poor decisions sealed the migrants’ fate.
"For a long time, the Border Patrol had worried that something bad
was coming," he writes. "Something to match or outstrip the
terrible day in 1980, when a group of Salvadorans was abandoned in
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and thirteen of them died."
Upon discovering the survivors, the border agents "knew the
apocalypse had finally come."
Highwayis not a light read: It’s a rough ride that
provides an honest and sometimes gory account of the struggles the
group endured. A tale of hope, horror and survival, the book gives
readers new insight into the world of the smugglers, migrants and
the Border Patrol itself.
by Luis Alberto
239 pages, hardcover, $24.95.
Brown and Company, 2004
Remembering those forgotten in the desert
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