The Devil’s Highway

Polleros are smugglers who lead illegal immigrants across the border and into the desert. They dress in “bad clothes,” like their pollos, in order to blend in (in case of capture). Urrea is careful to explain that, in the modern-day hierarchy of border gangs, what most Americans think of as the Coyote is actually termed a pollero, though Urrea does on occasion use the terms interchangeably.

Pollero Quotes in The Devil’s Highway

The The Devil’s Highway quotes below are all either spoken by Pollero or refer to Pollero. For each quote, you can also see the other terms and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Little, Brown and Company edition of The Devil’s Highway published in 2004.
Chapter 1 Quotes

You’d be hard pressed to meet a Border Patrol agent in either southern Arizona sector who had not encountered death. All the agents seem to agree that the worst deaths are the young women and the children. The deaths, however, that fill the agents with the deepest rage are the deaths of illegals lured into the wasteland and then abandoned by their Coyotes.

Related Characters: Luís Alberto Urrea (speaker)
Related Symbols: Coyotes and Chickens
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
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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.

Related Characters: Luís Alberto Urrea (speaker)
Related Symbols: La Cabeza Prieta
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 3 Quotes

From El Papalote, it seems like the myth of the big bad border is just a fairy tale. One step, and presto! You're in the EEUU. Los Estados Unidos. There's nothing there. No helicopters, no trucks, no soldiers. There's a tarantula, a creosote bush, a couple of beat saguaros dying of dry rot, some scattered bits of trash, old human and coyote turds in the bushes now mummified into little coal nuggets. Nothing. The smugglers tell the walkers it’s just a day’s walk to their pickup point. How bad can it be? A day of thirst, some physical struggle- they've lived like that all their lives.

Related Characters: Luís Alberto Urrea (speaker)
Related Symbols: Coyotes and Chickens
Page Number: 57-58
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Mexican government’s border sign near Sasabe doesn’t actually say “Coyotes.” It uses the hipper slang of the border. It says, “Los Polleros.” A pollero would be a chicken-wrangler. The level of esteem the smugglers hold for their charges is stated plainly. They’re simply chickens. Of course, if you know Spanish, you know that the word for “chicken” is gallina. “Pollo” is usually reserved for something else. A pollo, as in arroz con pollo, has been cooked.

Related Characters: Luís Alberto Urrea (speaker)
Related Symbols: Coyotes and Chickens
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:
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Afterword Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Luís Alberto Urrea (speaker)
Related Symbols: La Cabeza Prieta
Page Number: 222
Explanation and Analysis:
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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.

Related Characters: Luís Alberto Urrea (speaker)
Page Number: 233
Explanation and Analysis:
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Pollero Term Timeline in The Devil’s Highway

The timeline below shows where the term Pollero appears in The Devil’s Highway. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3: The Coyote and the Chicken
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
...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.” (full context)
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 4: El Guía
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Chapter 5: Jesús Walks Among Us
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
...they are unable to offer very much helpful information—other than to identify Mendez as their pollero. (full context)
Chapter 7: A Pepsi for the Apocalypse
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
...“it says a lot about Maradona that he has to be replaced by two other polleros.” Mendez boards a bus and heads downtown. (full context)
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
...to wake up. They eat a meager breakfast, then Mendez, Santos, and Lauro arrive. The polleros advise the walkers to go over to the store and buy water. Mendez tells the... (full context)
Chapter 10: The Long Walk
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
...Some of the men have realized how lost they are, and Santos, one of the polleros, suggests they all attempt to head back to Mexico—the journey will have been a failure,... (full context)
Chapter 11: Their Names
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
...brothers, Isidro, Mario and Efraín, were a “crazy” group of jokers. Lauro, one of the polleros, was alone—nobody, not even Mendez, ever knew his real name. (full context)
Chapter 15: Aftermath
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
...insane from the walk. Nahum identifies Mendez, “the guy with the rooster hair,” as the pollero who abandoned them, despite refusing to give any details of his and his companions’ journey... (full context)
Chapter 16: Home
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Myth, Religion, and The Spirit World Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
...had only set out to save them, insisting that he isn’t like all the other polleros who leave their pollos to die. Urrea writes that when news of Mendez’s statements reached... (full context)