Ten years have passed since the publication of The Devil’s Highway, and thirteen have passed since the deaths of the Yuma 14. “Everything has changed,” Urrea writes, “and the worst of it remains the same.”
Urrea is able to look at his work from a distance, and objectively reflect on how things have—or haven’t— changed since he published the book.
Urrea was “surprised” to watch his book take off, and take on a life of its own as it became required reading at many high schools and colleges across the country. Urrea remembers a question from someone he sarcastically refers to as a “helpful young man” who, in a group discussion of the book, asked: “Why should we read a book about people who shouldn’t even be here? They’re like, illegal.”
In this passage, Urrea sarcastically describes one prejudiced reader as “helpful”—he does so to demonstrate how some people were able to read his book, bear witness to the stories of the Wellton 26, and still be unable to see past their “illegal” status to recognize their humanity.
While the idea behind the book’s creation was to generate discussion, Urrea reveals that the deeper idea eventually became one of bearing witness to “an exodus straight from the biblical template,” to which nobody seemed to be paying any attention. As Urrea dropped his personal agenda for the book and allowed it to become a story about all of humanity, he began to realize the ways in which blame is often mislaid in border issues, especially where the Border Patrol is concerned.
Urrea shifted his primary desire for the book from one of simply stirring the pot to one of empathetically bearing witness to a story of mythical proportions—a story that was being ignored because its protagonists were “illegal” and thus seen by many as devoid of humanity. Bearing witness to the story of the Wellton 26 made Urrea realize how important it was to patiently listen to all sides of the story with the same empathy he was giving to the walkers.
Though in his initial research on and contact with the Border Patrol, the agents were suspicious of Urrea, he notes that it was a “holy” experience to eventually have the rescuers open up to him. He writes that the “triumvirate of Desolation—walkers, smugglers, and Migra—all were worthy of witness.”
Urrea’s radical commitment to bearing witness pays off in his“holy” experience of being let in not just to the world of the Border Patrol but to the world of the border itself was.
Urrea wonders if the border is a region or simply “an idea nobody can agree on.” He laments that radio talk show hosts still attempt to “horrify their listeners,” acting as though there is a “biblical flood of ‘illegals’” coming across the border. The immigration debate is about regulating illegals—that is, human beings—rather than the border itself. More than anything, Urrea laments that all of this is still going on despite the fact that “illegal immigration has fallen by over 70 percent” in the ten years since his book was initially published.
Urrea is upset that the humanity of migrants is still being discredited all along the border, and that those in charge of affecting change where border regulation is concerned are focusing on the wrong aspects of the battle to keep desperate and innocent individuals from losing their lives at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Wellton Station has grown, in ten years, from a thirty-two agent operation to a three-hundred agent one, though with waning illegal immigration numbers there has been a “drop-off in clients.” Urrea describes Border Patrol agents as “warriors,” and expresses his gratitude for the fact that so many have been supportive of his book and have provided him with “a constant flow of witness.”
Urrea remains grateful to the agents who helped him to complete his project of bearing witness to all the moving parts of the border issue, and grateful even more so for the “constant flow of witness” that many agents have continued to provide him with. Urrea uses this passage to argue that everyone longs to have their stories witnessed.
Urrea considers the current state of smuggling. Now that “some villages in Mexico are devoid of working men,” it is now mostly women and children crossing the border out of necessity. Over one third of women who cross the border are raped or sexually assaulted at some point on their journey, and, often, women are led over the border with their children only to have the children “dragged back to Mexico” and kept for ransom, such that the mother must work to buy her children back once she arrives in America. Now, the drug cartels control the smuggling routes.
Horrors of mythic proportions continue to unfold along the border. The issue is shifting, Urrea argues, but lawmakers are hung up on decade-old misconceptions about immigration because of their reluctance to bear witness to immigrants’ stories or to consider the humanity of those desperate people who attempt to cross the border each and every day.
Urrea briefly notes that he left out his own personal experiences along the border during the research and writing of The Devil’s Highway. He left them out, initially, because he felt it would be a “sin” to write about them alongside the stories of those who risked everything to come to America. He reveals that he had accidentally crossed paths with Don Moi before he even knew who he was, and that he learned a great deal from Border Patrol Agents, though, unfortunately, Urrea has “lost track” of the survivors. He also revealed that Reymundo Sr.’s nephew wrote to him after the book’s publication, expressing gratitude to Urrea for writing the truth of what happened to his uncle, and confessing that he himself had made the same journey his uncle did—and survived. Reymundo’s nephew now holds a Ph.D., and is a professor and scholar in world economics. He hopes to “save the border” and “heal relations” between the U.S. and Mexico.
Urrea’s reluctance to use his book as a platform for relaying his own stories shows his deep commitment to bearing witness to the stories of those who have lost their lives along the Devil’s Highway. His revelations about his communication with the Barreda family show even more deeply how important his book has been, and how the struggle of immigrants to claim their own humanity in a world which does not want to witness their stories continues. Urrea ends his afterword on a note of hope—a clear departure from the book’s actual ending, published ten years earlier.