The Devil’s Highway

Signcutting Term Analysis

Signcutting, also referred to as cutting for sign, is a process by which U.S. Border Patrol agents hunt the desert for walkers. When sign—evidence of movement—shows up on one drag, Border Patrol signcutters will head to the next drag, and the next, until they have hit a drag in which no sign is present, and then begin moving back to their last sign. In this way, Border Patrol agents can box walkers in.

Signcutting Quotes in The Devil’s Highway

The The Devil’s Highway quotes below are all either spoken by Signcutting or refer to Signcutting. 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 8 Quotes

The cutters know many things about a person by the nature of his tracks… The men shuffled and stumbled along, wandering off path and straggling, but generally moving ahead. The knee scuff where a man fell, and the smeared tracks of the two companions who helped him up. Once the trackers got the tread marks of each shoe, they could follow the ever more delirious steps right up to the feet of each dead body. The sign told them much about each man. This guy walked alone the whole time. This guy walked with his brothers. This guy had his arm around his son some of the time their tracks interwove and braided together as they wandered. This guy tried to eat a cactus.

Related Characters: Luís Alberto Urrea (speaker)
Page Number: 112-113
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 12 Quotes

They agreed to stick together and walk north. All of them. It had to be north. Mendez had gone north, the bastard, and he was saving himself. They’d follow Mendez. Once more, the men stood, and they walked. Now the illegals were cutting for sign.

Related Symbols: La Cabeza Prieta
Page Number: 158-159
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 14 Quotes

It is important to note that within ten minutes of finding the lost men, the Migra was already fully engaged in rescue. While Mike F. cut for more sign, the old boys were kicking off their desert race. The Border Patrol sped there so fast, with so many vehicles, over such vicious terrain, that they suffered twenty-six flat tires. Some agents drove on rims to get there.

Related Characters: Luís Alberto Urrea (speaker), Mike F.
Related Symbols: La Cabeza Prieta
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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Signcutting Term Timeline in The Devil’s Highway

The timeline below shows where the term Signcutting appears in The Devil’s Highway. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: The Rules of the Game
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Myth, Religion, and The Spirit World Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
...holes and mark ancient graves. Some rock piles have been placed by the Border Patrol signcutters, or trackers, who refuse to divulge what the piles signify. (full context)
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
...approaches, and then men run toward it. A Border Patrol agent, Mike F., had been cutting for sign and, unable to find anything, was planning on turning around when he spotted the lost... (full context)
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
...have tried to jump over the drag or brush their tracks away with a branch. Signcutters—or just “cutters”—know the land by heart, and can read it “like a text.” Along with... (full context)
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
As signcutters worked backwards from the Vidrios Drag, they began to find corpses. Fourteen men had died,... (full context)
Chapter 8: Bad Step at Bluebird
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
The signcutters who traced Mendez’s route in the days following the rescue of the survivors referred to... (full context)
Chapter 14: Helicopters
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
...rescue mission. Mike F., with the lost walkers in his car, drives through the desert, cutting for more sign . Far above him, a Marine pilot in a helicopter spots ten bodies on the... (full context)
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Myth, Religion, and The Spirit World Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
While “cutters, Marines, cops, EMTs, [and] rangers” hunt all night for other survivors, Mendez remains asleep under... (full context)