Urrea writes that three guides led the Wellton 26 into the desert. One will never be known, one is known by a code name alone, and one achieved “infamy.” Guides (or polleros) earn about a hundred dollars a head for leading groups over the border. They never reveal their names and go only by code names, and they wear “bad clothes” so that they blend in with their pollos, should the group be caught or apprehended. Many guides dope their walkers with cocaine or diet pills in order to make them walk faster, disregarding the fact that they might then die of a heart attack during the journey. The one thing the Wellton 26’s guide have to their credit is the fact that they did not dope their pollos.
The guides who are charged with the difficult and delicate task of shepherding desperate illegal immigrants over the border are often just as desperate as their “pollos,” evidenced by the way they treat their charges to ensure that they themselves are protected above all else. In a world where there is a lot of money to be earned in these “mass exodus” marches, it is about the quantity of human lives transported, and never about the quality of care for or attention to those lives.
The leader of the Wellton 26 was a nineteen-year-old from Guadalajara. He wore his hair “in a silly punk rock style with a red-dyed forelock hanging over his eye.” He earned the nickname “Rooster Boy,” and though he went by Mendez, his real name was Jesús Antonio Lopez Ramos, and he was born on December 25th. Urrea marvels at the stunning coincidences and biblical allegories of the Wellton 26’s journey: “Jesús led the walkers gathered by Moses into the desert called Desolation.”
This introduction to Mendez comes on the tails of having been introduced to the cutthroat and demeaning world of the “polleros.” Urrea introduces him as a silly-looking teen, but also acknowledges the great mythic tradition in which he’s situated—by virtue of his name, his date of birth, and the other legendary coincidences surrounding the journey of the Wellton 26.
There are innumerable “heinous” stories of walkers being abandoned, abused, or otherwise compromised by their polleros. In Mendez’s letter to the court, he insists that, when setting out on the Wellton 26’s journey, he never imagined that the tragedy that befell them would happen. But Mendez, Urrea writes, surely knew of the horrors that were so routine along the border.
Though Jesús may have insisted that he never could have known what might befall his desperate group of “pollos,” he was of course very well aware of the dangers all along the border, and had more than likely borne witness to instances of the desperation and desolation which rule the region.