La Migra Quotes in The Devil’s Highway
“Getting bodies,” in Border Patrol lingo, didn’t necessarily mean collecting corpses. Bodies were living people. “Bodies” was one of the many names for them. Illegal aliens, dying of thirst more often than not, are called “wets” by agents. “Five wets” might have slipped out. “Wets” are also called “tonks,” but the Border Patrol tries hard to keep that bon mot from civilians. It’s a nasty habit in the ranks. Only a fellow border cop could appreciate the humor of calling people a name based on the stark sound of a flashlight breaking over a human head.
Somebody had to follow the tracks. They told the story. They went down into Mexico, back in time, and ahead into pauper’s graves. Before the Yuma 14, there were the smugglers. Before the smugglers, there was the Border Patrol. Before the Border Patrol, there was the border conflict, before them all was Desolation itself.
Part of the idea was to foment discussion. Make us think a little about those people who are “like, illegal.” But the deeper idea was to bear witness—we saw an exodus straight from the biblical template, and it felt that no one was paying attention. As I started the work, I will confess, it was all about the good men who died. But it didn’t take long to see that the story was really about all humans—all of us in those ancient deserts are lost wanderers.
Item: a Mexican Beta Group immigration cop asked me if the situation in the U.S.—the suffering of the undocumented—would be improved if we called them by other terms. What if they are called “refugees”? “Pilgrims”? He was a philosopher. “In God’s world,” he said, “no man is illegal.” Every night, he locked himself inside the police station so the cocaine cowboys from the desert couldn’t kill him.
The border makes me happy. Hard to believe. But, after all, I’m from there. Is the border all hate and fear and bad craziness? No. Of course not. Just like the Border Patrol agents aren’t all racist monsters looking to crack beaner heads. Just like the smugglers aren’t all savage beasts looking to slaughter innocents for filthy lucre…well, not all of them. Just like the walkers aren’t slobbering rapists and murderers—in spite of the blazing sign we float over their heads: ILLEGAL.