Last fall, my film was paired with Luis Alberto Urrea’s The Devil’s Highway as part of a series on immigration at the University of Louisville. I’ve been meaning to read it every since. I’m glad I finally had the chance.
The Devil’s Highway is a true story—painstakingly researched by Urrea—about a group of undocumented migrants who find themselves lost and stranded in the Arizona desert. In the process of telling this story, Urrea provides an exceptionally vivid, sophisticated, and comprehensive perspective on Mexican immigration and U.S. immigration policies.
The book goes deep into Mexico to explain why people leave their communities. It dissects the structure of human smuggling gangs. It paints a striking portrait of conditions in the Arizona desert. It follows the Border Patrol in its efforts both to capture unauthorized entrants and to save the lives of unauthorized entrants. It provides a powerful account of the absurdity, wastefulness, and unintended consequences of border fortification.
Urrea’s research is solid, his writing beautiful. He brings a rare bit of depth to people otherwise known as job-stealing illegals, unscrupulous human smugglers, and trigger-happy border patrol agents.
The Devil’s Highway is not always the most accessible read. Many of Urrea’s most interesting references and observations may go unappreciated by readers who do not have much background in immigration policy or who haven’t spent time in Mexico, at the border, or in the Arizona desert. For those of you who are just starting to learn about the issue, I recommend first watching a film like El Norte and reading a more policy-oriented book like Beyond Smoke and Mirrors—both of which I plan to review in the coming weeks. Watching The Other Side of Immigration and reading this blog won’t hurt either!