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The Devil's Highway: A True Story Hardcover – April 2, 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 246 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In May 2001, 26 Mexican men scrambled across the border and into an area of the Arizona desert known as the Devil's Highway. Only 12 made it safely across. American Book Awardâ€"winning writer and poet Urrea (Across the Wire; Six Kinds of Sky; etc.), who was born in Tijuana and now lives outside Chicago, tracks the paths those men took from their home state of Veracruz all the way norte. Their enemies were many: the U.S. Border Patrol ("La Migra"); gung-ho gringo vigilantes bent on taking the law into their own hands; the Mexican Federales; rattlesnakes; severe hypothermia and the remorseless sun, a "110 degree nightmare" that dried their bodies and pounded their brains. In artful yet uncomplicated prose, Urrea captivatingly tells how a dozen men squeezed by to safety, and how 14 othersâ€"whom the media labeled the Yuma 14â€"did not. But while many point to the group's smugglers (known as coyotes) as the prime villains of the tragedy, Urrea unloads on, in the words of one Mexican consul, "the politics of stupidity that rules both sides of the border." Mexican and U.S. border policy is backward, Urrea finds, and it does little to stem the flow of immigrants. Since the policy results in Mexicans making the crossing in increasingly forbidding areas, it contributes to the conditions that kill those who attempt it. Confident and full of righteous rage, Urrea's story is a well-crafted mélange of first-person testimony, geographic history, cultural and economic analysis, poetry and an indictment of immigration policy. It may not directly influence the forces behind the U.S.'s southern border travesties, but it does give names and identities to the faceless and maligned "wetbacks" and "pollos," and highlights the brutality and unsustainable nature of the many walls separating the two countries. Maps not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

So many illegal immigrants die in the desert Southwest of the U.S. that only notorious catastrophes make headlines. Urrea reconstructs one such incident in the Sonoran Desert, the ordeal of sun and thirst of two dozen men in May 2001, half of whom suffered excruciating deaths. They came from Vera Cruz; their so-called guide came from Guadalajara. Jesus Lopez Ramos was no master of orienteering, however, just an expendable bottom-feeder in the border's human-smuggling racket. Tracing their lives and the routes to the border, Urrea adopts a slangy, surreal style in which the desert landscape shimmers and distorts, while in desiccated border settlements criminals, officials, and vigilantes patrol for human cargo such as the men from Vera Cruz. The imaginative license Urrea takes, paralleling the laconic facts of the case that he incorporates into his narrative, produces a powerful, almost diabolical impression of the disaster and the exploitative conditions at the border. Urrea shows immigration policy on the human level. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (April 2, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316746711
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316746717
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (246 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #217,435 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Sebastian Fernandez VINE VOICE on May 31, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Urrea delivers a moving novel based on the true story of the Yuma 14, fourteen Mexicans (from a group of 26) that tried to cross the border and enter the US illegally through the Arizona desert and succumbed in the attempt. The author presents the facts efficiently and his conclusion follows: Mexicans trying to cross the border are human beings like everyone else that had the bad fortune of facing tough economic condition; they should be respected.
The author describes the conditions and historic events that lead to the beginning of the illegal immigration into the US and draws a clear parallelism with our times, when there are several tasks in the US that Americans are reluctant to do, thus illegal immigrants are needed for this. When price changes in international markets adversely affected the Mexican economy and overpopulation became a problem, some Mexicans decided to come to the US. They ended up with a comfortable life, so when others found out, a growing interest in crossing the border developed.
Organizations of coyotes were formed to provide supply for the growing demand, and the poor people seeking a better future became just a means to an end. These individuals in their attempts have to fight against the heat of the desert, thirst, exhaustion, "la migra" (Border Patrol) and the coyotes themselves. On top of this, the control at the border has intensified throughout the last years, so the groups seeking a new future have to go through more dangerous paths each time. In the case of the twenty-six Mexicans that are the center of this story, the point of entry was the Devil's Highway, a deadly desert in Arizona that has claimed numerous victims through the years.
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Format: Paperback
"The Devil's Highway," is a pretty good book. Urrea sees no sacred cows - unless discussing the poor individuals who dare to cross over to the U.S. The border landscape is murderous, and the "Coyotes" that lead the illegals across are predators and gangsters. It's all about money. Urrea does his best to give each of those who suffered through the 2001 ordeal (the Yuma 14 (those that died), or Wellton 26 (the entire party), take your pick), faces, lives, hopes. They are people, and not just rotting bodies found in the desert. Still, I get the sense that "The Devil's Highway," is a bit padded. There are also a few inaccuracies (Department of Interior police as a separate body from the BLM? An inaccurate description of a Tarantino movie), which left feeling that Urrea was shooting from the hip. Given the subject matter, he can't help but hit his target (which is extended to both sides of the border), but when I see mistakes (even nitpicky ones), I wonder, whatever the book, what other ones am I missing? Further, Urrea's style will remind you of Hunter Thompson, or even James Ellroy. This is high-risk writing, that hooks a reader, but can also annoy when unnecessary slang is used. At its worst, it seems like the writer is more interested in being hip than telling the story. It's a high wire act. Urrea for the most part stays on that wire, but there were a few times where the slang gets to be annoying.

But even with a slightly padded feel to it, it's the last twenty or so pages of the "Devil's Highway" that deliver the goods. Urrea could easily expand on those twenty pages and write a new book the current state of things Mexican - and American.
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Format: Paperback
There are many sides to the immigration/border policy debate, and Urrea of presenting them all equally. The book, Luis Alberto Urrea centers around a specific group of walkers, dubbed the Wellton 26, who crossed the border, into the Sonoran desert, Arizona, with a coyote they hired to lead them to safety and a new life in the US. To avoid the Border Patrol, the coyote that was leading, took them on a new route, one which he wasn't very familiar with. This lead to a 6 day hike, covering 40+ miles, in 90-100 degree weather, resulting in 14 deaths.

Urrea uses this one situation, which as picked up by the media, and sensationalized, as a representation of a larger story. In this same year, a total of 417 died attempting unauthorized border crossings, and those are only the ones who were found. The walkers from Mexico are in a desperate search for a better life for them and their families, while the border patrol is trying to fulfill the law, attempting the capture the illegals as they enter the country, though also concerned for their safety.


The issue of immigration enforcement, and border policy is very complicated. Reading this gave me a great picture of what is going on there, and how many sides to the story there are. There are many positive changes taking place, but the US has a long way to go to find the best solution. I'd recommend this to anyone interested in learning more about border policy and the stories behind the walkers attempting to cross to a better life.
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Format: Paperback
Pulitzer Prize finalist, Luis Alberto Urrea, has written about the struggle people desperate enough to risk their lives crossing the Mexican/American border (Arizona) in search of a better life. The story itself is as old as the hills but this time, he paints a picture of the area so vividly, that if you've been anywhere in this region, you'll appreciate his descriptions even more. The people who abound, from many walks of life (and not only Mexicans), faced the oppressive heat and lack of water, not knowing where they'd land up, were brave and courageous. Urrea unfolds the account of the twenty-six men who ventured into the unknown and in search of a better life, and the "human hunt" that followed them. Their fears and dreams, the desert's own laws, and the stretch known as The Devil's Highway is all explained. Doggedly they pursue freedom but the price is extremely high, as the desert has obstacles few humans can survive. Urrea does a great job describing the officials whose job it is to patrol this particular area along the Arizona/Mexican border, as well as the brokers who help arrange these trips to freedom - usually at a high cost.
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