The Devil's Highway

This book has come up in conversation a number of times in the past few weeks, so I figured I'd post these quotes. I typed them up in March of 2011, when I was going to record some thoughts about the book. But all I got to was typing the quotes.

I'm a selective reader and The Devil's Highway makes my list of top 40 books.

Because. . .

It's a compelling story that tells a true story.
It makes me think differently about the world I live in.
It keeps you hooked until the end. (The last 20 pages are the best.)

If you know of other books that fit these criteria, please comment with your recommendations. I'm ready for a break from parenting books.

If it was the Border Patrol's job to apprehend lawbreakers, it was equally their duty to save the lost and the dying.

In Veracruz, things weren't going well. The people were killing themselves working the ranchos on the outskirts. The fisherman couldn't catch enough protein in the sea. The cane cutters couldn't cut enough cane. The small peasant farmers couldn't get good enough prices to cover the costs of planting and harvesting their coffee. Even the marijuana growers were making meager wages once the narcos took their hit off the top and the cops got their mordidas.

Families continued to grow. The gringos and the missionaries and even the government representatives from Mexico City told them to stop procreating. It was simple: too many mouths caused hunger.

And in the economy of hunger, which the fat men of the governments did not understand, more mouths meant more chances to survive. With a high rate of infant and childhood mortality, the lower castes, the workers, and the tribal people of the Third World tended to rely on their own procreative gifts for survival. If one of of five died, that still left four to grow up and begin to work. When Madre y Padre became old, ill, infirm, it was only the family that would protect them. No AARP or Medicare in the jungle. Four children, with children of their own, might suddenly represent a small army of twenty, all working, all pitching in, all offering a tithe of food or money or water or tequila. True communism, on a family level.

Men came from America in cars. Some even had the latest models--new Dodge Ram trucks, bright red, booming Eminem on their CD players. . . They built cement block additions to their tumbledown houses, added aluminum to the thatch roofs. New clothes were signs of great success: satellite dishes, air conditioners, boom boxes, guns, cattle, televisions, coffeemakers, PCs, pigs. Some even got telephones. It was unheard of. Villages all over Mexico were suddenly slotting into the Internet, watching CNN. Families came back with babies who were supposedly American citizens. The neighbors of these adventure-capitalists watched and wanted. Their children were dying. Dengue fever had made its way up from the Amazon. Malaria was spreading again, and it was worse than before--this new black blood malaria. Corruption, political violence, indigenous revolution in the south. People in Veracruz were looking north, as inevitably as the rains came and the mosquitos bit.

More than four thousand men from the region had already left.

For a while, the Mexican government offered the walkers survival kits with water and snacks, but the uproar from the United States put a stop to that. Americans saw these attempts at life saving as a combination invitation to invade and complimentary picnic basket.

Gangs are so in control now that walkers who want to go alone, without a pollero to guide them, must pay a fee just to enter the desert. Criminals are at the gate of Disneyland: they're scalping tickets, and they're scalping each other.

They got all their bags together and choked as the bus pulled away, washing them in fumes and dust. They waved their hands before their faces and waited for a truck to scream by going the other way. The driver knew what they were doing. The United States was less than one hundred yards away. He raised one hand and was gone. They trotted along the road, Mendez in the lead, the other two gangsters taking up the rear. Nobody told the walkers anything. They thought they were going to jump a big fence and hide in trees as helicopters bore down. But they ran in the sand, slipping and struggling, and they dropped into a dry wash and up the three-foot bank on the north side, and they stepped over a dropped and rusted barbed wire fence. "Lost estados unidos, muchachos." That's it? That's the border? This is North America? It don't look like much!

The day tormented them. Thirst. Pain. Men crawled under creosotes, under the scant shade of scraggly mesquites. It was a dull repetition of the entire walk. As rote as factory work. Their hours clanged by like machines. They were in the dirt like animals. Six o'clock in the morning took ten hours to become seven o'clock. A week later, it was eight o'clock. The temperature screamed into the nineties before nine o'clock. They waited. They couldn't even talk. They panted like dogs, groaned. Men put their hands to their chests, almost delicately, as if checking their own pulses. But they were barely awake. They were half in dreams and half in the day, and the day itself was a bad dream. Dry wings swished in the air around them. Voices, coughing. Far above, the icy sliver chips of airplanes cut the blue. Out of reach.

Nobody knows the name of the man who took off all his clothes. It was madness, surely. He removed his slacks, folded them, and put them on the ground. Then he took off his underwear, laid it neatly on the pants. He removed his shirt and undershirt and squared them away with the pants. As if he didn't want to leave a mess. His shoes had the socks tucked in them. They were placed on the clothes to keep them from blowing away. He lay on his back and stared into the sun until he died.

Nahum Landa said he wanted them to forget giving him a drink--he wanted them to pour cold water over his head. The sound of helicopters filled the sky, the calls of Migra agents. In spite of their terrible situation, it was still tempting to hide for a few of them. Even then, they didn't want to give up.

Later (Rita Vargas) calculated that the dead men's flight along had cost over sixty-eight thousand dollars. "What if," she asked, "somebody had simply invested that amount in their villages to begin with?"

Consul Flores Vizcarra says it isn't the desert that kills immigrants. It isn't Coyotes. It isn't even the Border Patrol. "What kills the people," he says, "is the politics of stupidity that rules both sides of the border."

Perhaps, ultimately, what is so remarkable about the Mexican border is not how many of Them have come across, but how many of Them have not. It is not hard to imagine any one of the Wellton 26 deciding it was time to put a roof on the house, to build a small concrete room for the new baby, to buy furniture for his wife, to feed his family. Their reasons for coming were as simple as that. . . To hear politicians and talk show hosts tell it, the entire population of Mexico is on its way.

Numbers never lie, after all: they simply tell different stories depending on the math of the tellers. . . The same facts and figures add up to different sums.

The Center for Immigration Studies did a number crunch in 2001, and they came up with the alarming data that each illegal costs the United States money. "The estimated lifetime net fiscal drain (taxes paid minus serviced used) for the average adult mexican immigrant is negative $55,200." That is, welfare, medical services, school services, various outreaches, cost of $55K+ over a lifetime of menial labor.

If there are eight million tonks slaving away in the United States right now, most of those workers pay federal income tax: shaved right off the top. no choice, just like you. They pay state taxes: shaved right off the top. They get tapped for Social Security and FICA. There's a whole lot of shaving going on. If you multiply $4.50 an hour by eight million workers, that would mean there are 36 million taxable dollars being accrued every hour by illegals getting tapped for some percentage by Uncle Sam. Those workers will not receive a refund.

What about sales taxes, gas tax, rent? What about Pampers at the local Vons supermarket? Cigarette tax. Beer. Tortillas and BVDs and cable and used cars and speeding tickets and water bill and electric bills and tampons and Trojans and Mars bars. Movie tickets. Running shoes. CDs. Over a lifetime, how much does it add to the American commonwealth.

UCLA's North American Integration and Development Center released a twenty-first-century study that found that "undocumented immigrants" contributed "at least $300 billion per year to the U.S gross domestic product." . . . Researcher Marisol Sanchez told the EFE News Service, apropos of this study, that "although conservative groups claim that undocumented immigrants are a social burden," illegals tend to shy away from seeking social services because they don't want to be deported. Wherefore $55K+?

How many toys. How many phone bills. How much in the poor box at church. How much for pencils, steaks, charcoal, glasses, panties, bras, bikes, skateboards, concerts, Blockbuster, Monistat, Head & Shoulders, Listerine. AOL. Computers. Backpacks. Uniforms. Night school.

The secretary comes back in and notes the woman is crying. "Oh!" she says. "We've upset you." She sits and says, "Senora, you must forgive us. We deal with death so often in here that we forget. We forget, you see. We're indelicate. If you don't work here, death still means something to you."

1 comment:

Natalie B. said...

I FOR SURE want to read this. This is a topic of great interest and concern to me. Since living in CA and seeing up close and personal the "stories from the border" I have felt so conflicted about it. My two closest friends' parents both came here illegally. They both had stories of picking up other relatives illegally and hiding them in the truck of their car. These are both families that came here and prospered. Also, purely from a Gospel Standpoint, it often leaves me conflicted. I hate the policy of breaking apart families. I saw one of our friends that grew up in the US returned to Mexico for two years, where she had not lived since infancy...even though she had two children and was married to an American. As children of God, should we not want the best for all our brothers and sisters? I get conflicted on how to best go about that. I do think the book is a little biased on its numbers (granted I HAVE NOT read it.) Say that "most" pay income tax (which I think its high) its really easy to figure out when filling out paperwork that with 2 dependents and making 30,000 a year, no payment would be withheld. They DO still have to pay into Social Security, and Medicade which they won't be able to collect on. At the rate we are going, I don't have high hopes that any of us will collect on those! Even with what they pay, because I have researched this a lot in the state of CA, it doesn't TOUCH what the state spends back on resources. CA is in a major debt crisis and being interested in such things, I have read a ton about it. The percentage of illegals in our prison system alone is HUGE. They just say CA spends about 10,000 a year per student. No matter how much the family is "paying back" in taxes, it is very unlikely they will be paying 10,000 in taxes. From what I have read education is the largest cost for illegals. (Again, personal conflict...we don't want a huge underclass of uneducated illegals) However, I can tell you the CA education system is a MESS. Lastly, I know from personal experience, illegals DO use the county hospitals. Living in the central valley, they go there to have babies and receive emergency aid and it is bankrupting the hospitals who have to legally give service to people who show up in the ER. I was shocked when moving back here how different our first ER experience was from what we experienced in CA. Also, I don't know HOW they do this, but I know from first hand experience many that received WIC, and food stamps and free medical for the children they have here. When Ryan lost his job SO many people in our neighborhood came to show us how to "cheat" they system, just trying to be kind and help us, but it is a real problem. (The social welfare office in Stockton, CA is another blog post in itself.) Those are my thoughts, a novel. No suggestions, but i really want to learn more from every side...makes me just want the Second Coming to come already. I will let you know what I think after I go get the book ASAP. Love your book suggestions!