Thursday, September 25, 2008

Death is a highway

There are days when I think, hoo-ee, do I have it tough. Late meetings, tough deadlines, rush home to help the kids with homework/bike riding/piano lessons. And then I read a book like the Devil's Highway and I realize I am a great big whiner.

The book details an attempt to sneak into the United States gone disastrously wrong. In May 2001, an undermined number of indigent Mexicans were led by inept criminal coyotes into the Arizona desert, where they promptly became lost. As author Luis Alberto Urrea clearly and gruesomely explains, prolonged exposure to the desert is deadly without water and these men ran out.

The villains of the book are the coyotes, the gangsters that guide and often abandon their charges in the desert, while fleecing them of their money and subjecting them to crippling loan terms. The Border Patrol is presented in even handed terms, while Urrea acknowledges their violent reputation, he finds the officers he meets are humane and thoughtful people who tend to help those they are hunting.

In addition to nonfiction, Urrea also writes poetry and prose, so it isn't surprising that his descriptions of the desert and his character sketches are so vivid. This is highly engaging writing that reminds me of the best of John McPhee or Sebastian Junger.

Whatever your opinion on immigration and illegal immigration, our current policies are deadly and that needs to be addressed. Whether by tighter control, freer immigration or by making the border less deadly (as Urrea shows the Border Patrol is doing,) people should not be dying in droves on the border.

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