The Devil’s Highway

Walker/Pollo Term Analysis

Walkers, or illegal immigrants crossing the desert by foot, are often throughout the text referred to as “pollos,” or “cooked chicken” in Spanish.

Walker/Pollo Quotes in The Devil’s Highway

The The Devil’s Highway quotes below are all either spoken by Walker/Pollo or refer to Walker/Pollo. 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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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:
Quotes explanation short mobile

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:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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:
Quotes explanation short mobile

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:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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Walker/Pollo Term Timeline in The Devil’s Highway

The timeline below shows where the term Walker/Pollo 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
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
...displaced pebbles, twigs, and dirt (called “hither thither”) help to tell the story of a “walker’s” journey. Cutters can discern what time of night walkers crossed a drag by observing the... (full context)
Chapter 3: The Coyote and the Chicken
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 4: El Guía
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
...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... (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,... (full context)
Chapter 5: Jesús Walks Among Us
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
...looking to catch illegals, including human rights groups who wander around hoping to “save dying walkers,” as well as prospectors, drug smugglers, journalists, INS agents, park rangers, military police, and splinter... (full context)
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
...use the landscape to navigate, and the two-day walk went off without a hitch. Their pollos all made their buses to Phoenix. (full context)
Chapter 6: In Sonoita
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
...Negro had the entire business of routing the smugglers down to “a science.” After the walkers arrived in Sonoita by bus, they would stay in one of the fleabag hotels until... (full context)
Chapter 7: A Pepsi for the Apocalypse
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
At the safehouse, the walkers are beginning to wake up. They eat a meager breakfast, then Mendez, Santos, and Lauro... (full context)
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
...station, Mendez urges the men to “look normal” while he bribes a bus driver. The walkers must pay fifty pesos each for passage to the border, and the bus driver takes... (full context)
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
What Mendez does not tell the walkers is that they have arrived at the big rock a couple hours ahead of schedule—normally,... (full context)
Chapter 8: Bad Step at Bluebird
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
...that perhaps “civilian border patrols” were out that night, attempting to entertain themselves by chasing walkers. Urrea states that, whatever may have happened, a Border Patrol vehicle would never have shone... (full context)
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
...stumbling and falling, the cutters were able to piece together what went wrong as the walkers made their way through no man’s land. (full context)
Chapter 10: The Long Walk
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
...desert temperature is still at ninety degrees. Some men begin to fall behind, and one walker announces that two companions have become lost from the group. Mendez tells the group that... (full context)
Chapter 12: Broken Promise
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
...time on their own journey north. Urrea speculates that the two of them knew the walkers would be dead by the time they reached help, and planned to save only themselves,... (full context)
Chapter 13: The Trees and the Sun
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Myth, Religion, and The Spirit World Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
After climbing a mountain, the abandoned walkers spot a lone Migra truck patrolling the desert. They scramble toward it, but there is... (full context)
Chapter 14: Helicopters
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
...the Migra are already “fully engaged” in a rescue mission. Mike F., with the lost walkers in his car, drives through the desert, cutting for more sign. Far above him, a... (full context)
Chapter 15: Aftermath
Myth, Religion, and The Spirit World Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
...risks of this undertaking were foreseeable” to Mendez even if they were not to the walkers(full context)
Chapter 16: Home
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Myth, Religion, and The Spirit World Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
...case on his behalf, trying to imply that the Border Patrol agents who lit the walkers up at Bluebird Pass did so intentionally, and were the same agents who rescued the... (full context)
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
...and violence that still occurs. American Border Patrol agents are shot by warring drug smugglers, pollos bake alive in the trunks of cars as they attempt to cross the border, FBI... (full context)
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
...middle of the Devil’s Highway, and designed “lifesaving towers” which serve as emergency checkpoints. Lost walkers who come upon the tall, glimmering towers—which are visible day and night—are greeted with instruction... (full context)
Afterword: Ten Years On
Myth, Religion, and The Spirit World Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
...to eventually have the rescuers open up to him. He writes that the “triumvirate of Desolation—walkers, smugglers, and Migra—all were worthy of witness.”  (full context)