Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Devil's Highway

Ever since reading Blood Meridian and The Border Trilogy I've been rather fascinated with the Mexican borderlands. Luis Alberto Urrea came highly recommended from Ken Sanders book store, and for good reason. The Devil's Highway is a very well-written account of the tragic journey of a 26 person border crossing in the summer of 2001. It has opened my eyes to a hierarchy of human trafficking: gangs, Coyotes, guĂ­as, pollos, and la Migra.

The human struggle for survival can be an astonishing thing. In the midst of gummed up political rule (and in Mexico's case, corrupt and increasingly broken) the desperate desire for a better quality of life and more money has caused people to go through some pretty amazing ordeals. And often die in the process. Regardless of which side of issue you fall, it is humbling.

I've never been the run-the-wetbacks-out-on-a-rail type. Far from it. In fact, I think if we were to deport all of our illegal migrant workers we would see an economic collapse that would make the current crisis look rather appealing. Does that make illegal immigration okay? Absolutely not. Border security is a must, but the manner in which we create it, and deal with the current population of illegals in the U.S. isn't so black and white.

The book cites a 2003 study done by the prestigious Thunderbird School of Global Management:

Mexican immigrants paid nearly $600 million in federal taxes and sales taxes in 2002.
Mexican immigrants use about $250 million in social services such as Medicaid and food stamps.
Mexican immigrants account for another $31 million in uncompensated health care.

Surprise! An economic profit of $319 million.

Other reports estimate that undocumented immigrants contribute at least 300 billion to the United States GDP. And depending on who I talk to I get responses on the illegal immigration issue ranging from "Grant amnesty!" to "Round 'em up and ship 'em out!". Yet year after year the issue is buried under more bureaucracy and nothing happens. Stasis. But does anyone else think that if illegals were costing millions of dollars (instead of adding) we would have seen the fence go up a long time ago?


mfranti said...

i'll admit, i got excited when i saw you were reading that book. i read it a few? couple? years back and was thrilled with it. sad too.

too bad most people will shrug their shoulders at those numbers and tell you it's left wing liberal nonsense designed to further the agenda.


i might be inspired to read it again-thanks.

Joe said...

I just read Blood Meridian and I had mixed feelings . . . but overall my mind was blown. I'm not always down with his prose style, but his scope and artistry are to be revered. I will never, ever forget that book. Or The Judge. And to me, that's the highest compliment to be paid a piece of lit.

From what you say, I really hope I can get to Devil's Highway sometime. Right now I'm in the throes of comps reading. But on a related note, you might be interested in a book called Coyotes by Ted Conover. He is an amazing immersion/undercover journo. The premise is that he pays coyotes to smuggle him across the border illegally with a group of immigrants. Then he works in the orchards and fields with them and follows some of them back to Mexico, etc.

And if you like that, check out another by him called Newjack, the story of him working as a prison guard at Sing Sing for a year.

Les said...


I've read most of Cormac McCarthy and I understand where you are coming from with regards to style. For me he pulls it off, and I think almost anyone else trying to write in the same way would fail miserably. Unfortunately, many people try (and shouldn't)to immitate the greats. Sometimes he barely succeeds himself, in my opinon. Suttree seemed difficult and too sprawling, whereas The Road was perfect.

Still, Blood Meridian was one of those rare examples of a book really knocking me flat. I closed the book and couldn't beleive that I had read what I did.

Thanks for your other recommendations! They sound very interesting. I'll check them out, for sure!