The Border Patrol and the Mexican consulate are connected, Urrea writes, by two things: each side has a deep distrust of its own government, and each side has a “simmering hatred” for human smugglers, known as polleros or Coyotes depending on their rank within any given smuggling gang.
The polleros are perhaps the point of the “triumvirate” of illegals, smugglers, and Border Patrol that are hardest to bear witness to empathetically. Their business is the business of exploitation and suffering—but, as Urrea will demonstrate, many polleros too are desperate men taken advantage of by ruthless people with no regard for their humanity, either.
The Mexican government has placed a sign in Sasabe, a border town south of the U.S., which explains, in Spanish, that Coyotes “don’t care about your safety or the safety of your family,” and warns would-be immigrants not to “pay them off with [their] lives.” The sign is ineffectual, not least because many walkers can’t read it, and yet it is “the only thing Mexico is doing to try to stop them from crossing.” Often, the Mexican army men who patrol the border have been paid off by Coyotes. The Mexican government previously had offered immigrants “survival kits” filled with water, snacks, and even condoms, but the American government had caused an “uproar” over what they saw as the Mexican government condoning illegal immigration rather than just attempting to look out for its citizens’ well-being.
The Mexican government and police are, within one passage, depicted as both corrupt and benevolent. There are many shades of gray within this story, and Urrea is determined to examine them all. As Mexican border police accept bribes and look the other way, the Mexican government attempts to ensure that its citizens are safe—while, on the other side of the border, Americans interpret this act of kindness and compassion as an endorsement of illegal immigration, when in reality it is an attempt to prevent the unnecessary loss of life.
The Wellton 26 did not cross at Sasabe. They crossed in an area where there was likely only a bit of sagging barbed wire—or perhaps no physical border at all—standing between them and the States. Towns like Sasabe, Urrea writes, exist only for illegal entry. There, buses and vans “full of walkers” line up at the border each day. In Sasabe, reportedly, as many as fifteen hundred walkers a day have been known to pass through. Illegal entry is a veritable industry along this roughly two-thousand mile stretch of border, and Coyotes “hawk destinations like crack dealers in the Bronx sell drugs.” Border slang, however, refers to Coyotes as “Los Polleros,” or chicken-wranglers, and to walkers as “pollos.” Pollo, in Spanish, means “cooked chicken.”
The illusion that it is easy to enter into the United States via towns like Sasabe—towns in which the police look the other way and in which the border is not well-protected—creates a mania and an industry in these otherwise abandoned towns. Human lives are trafficked with no attention to humanity itself, and even the “Coyotes”—the polleros—are swept up in a trade which completely ignores human dignity.
Luis and Daniel Cercas were the brothers who ran the gang which lured the Wellton 26 into the desert. Daniel worked in Mexico and was known as El Chespiro—Luis worked in Phoenix, and had a vast network of contacts all across the States. The Coyote in the case of the Wellton 26 was known as El Negro, though his real name was Evodio Manilla, and he was allegedly Luis Cercas’s brother-in-law. His driver was known as El Moreno. El Negro and El Moreno reported to Chespiro, but oversaw their own “small army” of drivers, guards, and guias, or guides. Urrea points out that today’s guias, or polleros, are what most people “used to think of as Coyotes,” but within the entire Cercas operation, guias are at the very bottom of the ladder.
Urrea helps his audience to better understand the complicated mechanics of the U.S.-Mexico border underworld. The terminology has evolved from what it used to be, and as the men near to the top have risen in status and importance, the men at the bottom have become more and more disposable—barely a step above the “cooked chicken” they are charged with transporting. This desecration of humanity creates a dangerous culture in which extortion and abandonment are completely commonplace.