Arizona’s immigration law, Luis Urrea’s The Devil’s Highway

Luis Alberto Urrea's The Devil's Highway provides context for the passage of yesterday's anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona.

Yesterday afternoon,  despite President Barack Obama’s calling it “misguided”  and “irresponsible,” Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed anti-immigrant Senate Bill 1070 into law.

The newly signed legislation gives police new powers to detain anyone who they think looks to be illegal, and, according to the Christian Science Monitor, may be a galvanizing issue for conservative Republicans angry about Obama’s election and tenure.

In a prescient story, friend and former colleague at The Chicago Reporter Fernando Diaz wrote about undocumented immigrants being stopped for traffic violations and ending up deported in last year’s March/April issue.  We also worked in 2007 on a story about fatal police shootings in Phoenix during a collaboration with ColorLines magazine.

In signing the legislation, Brewer called the bill a solution “to a crisis we did not create, and which the federal government has refused to address.”

The crisis to which Brewer refers has been much chronicled.  My brother Jon Lowenstein has masterfully documented the issue of the largest transnational migration in world history in the United States,Mexico and Guatemala.

I’ve read far from all of the fiction and non-fiction on this topic, and one of the most moving books I have read is Luis Alberto Urrea’s The Devil’s Highway.

In this gripping tale, Urrea writes about the slow and agonizing deaths of the “Yuma 14,” a group of 26 immigrants who perished during an attempted desert crossing from Mexico  to the United States.  Although a work of non-fiction, Urrea brings his considerable literary talents to bear in describing the men’s haunting realization that the coyote has abandoned them and their deaths are assured.

In one characteristic section, he writes:

“The dead have open mouths and white teeth.  They are stretched in angular poses, caught in last gasps or shouts, their eyes burned an eerie red by the sun.  Many of them are naked. Some of them have dirt in their mouths.  When the corpses are those of women, their breasts have shrunk and withered and cracked under the sun.  The deads’ open mouths reveal gums that have turned to some substance that looks like baked adobe, crumbling and almost orange.  They look like roadside attractions, like wax-and-paper torsos in a gas station Dungeon of Terror.  For many of them, these are the first portraits for which they have posed.

The Yuma 14 are all male.”

The book includes sections on the men’s lives in Mexico before their harrowing and, for many, fatal journey North.

I would hope that people of all political stripes could find some compassion for the suffering the men experienced, and that compassion can be the basis for the formation of comprehensive and just immigration reform.

Based on yesterday’s events, that hope may seem like a naive pipe dream.  But after reading Urrea’s book, it’s what I’m working with for now.


One response to “Arizona’s immigration law, Luis Urrea’s The Devil’s Highway

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Arizona’s immigration law, Luis Urrea’s The Devil’s Highway « Jeff Kelly Lowenstein’s Blog --

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