The Devil's Highway By Luis Alerto Urrea


West Maui Book Club Discussion Questions

Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Aloha and mahalo for visiting our site!

Any page numbers refer to iPad edition.

1. What deeper emotions did this book prod within you? Sympathy? Awareness? Empathy? Anger? Fear? Other? Did it influence the opinion you’re forming or already hold about today’s political climate with regard to the US/Mexican border and the US government’s proposed fence?

2. Did the early number of immigrants crossing the border surprise you?
     a. pg 56 – 1,500 per day depart from under the Sasabe Sign. Charles Bowden counted 5,000 in one afternoon.
     b. Pg 16 - 1,500 Border Patrol agents cover the Tucson sector, 300 work Yuma.
     C. Pg 19 – Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument…withering under 200,000 walkers passing though every year.

4. What do we know of the numbers today? See the Pew Research Center's "5 Fact about illegal immigration in the US"at:

5. In the book, the given costs versus benefits appeared as such:
    • pg 216 “The estimated lifetime net fiscal drain (taxes paid minus services used) for the average adult Mexican immigrant is negative $55,200.”
    • Pg 216 – “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. (And not being claimed on tax returns by illegals…)
    • Pg 217 – “undocumented immigrants contributed at least $300 billion per year to the US gross domestic prod…at $4.5 M, they still add between $154 M and $220 B.
    • pg 218 – Arizona gets $8 B in economic impact annually from the relationship with Mexico.” “Mexican immigrants paid nearly $600 M in federal taxes and sales taxes in 2002…Mecian immigrants use about $250 M in social services such as Medicaid and food stamps…another $32 M in uncompensated health care…” That leaves a profit of $319 M.”
    • Pg 218 – …total buying power of Arizona’s Mexican immigrants is estimated at $4.18 B. (They) spend on estimated $1.5 B in mortgage payments and rent annually. Mexican visitors and tourists spent $962 in Arizona in 2001…remittances…to their homeland reached $486 M last year with those transactions generating about $57 M in fees to Arizona banks and financial institutions.
    • Not to forget costs to secure our borders in police, border patrol, military, BORTAC, BORSTAR and FEMA.

6. The seven stages of heat-death were detailed. Pg 120: Heat Stress, Heat Fatigue, Heat Syncope, Heat Cramps, Heat Exhaustion, and Heat Stroke. In reading the details, how did they influence your overall understanding of what happened to these people and others before and after?

7. What’s your take on the two government’s “malfeasance” that “forced the walkers to flee their homes to bake to death in the western desert?” pg 33

8. Do you agree with the Mexican government and governor who declared the Yuma 14 were folk heroes? Martyrs? That all they wanted was a better life and were pursuing a dream? If so, why shouldn’t they have done it the legal way? Why risk everything when there are legal channels to gain the same thing? What’s stopping them?

9. Where you surprised to read that the “biggest Al Qaeda training grounds” are in Brazil? Pg 34

10. Best statement: “If only Mexico paid workers a decent wage.” Pg 206
Second best: “What kills the people is the politics of stupidity that rules both sides of the border.”

other atrocities (example: the Juarez women)
the lingo: coyotes, cutters, guias, Migras
how the cutters read the landscape and clues
personal expense for building towers by the Border Patrol
the urine recipe


1. At its heart, The Devil's Highway is the story of a journey in the hope of starting a better life. Every family in the United States arrived here from somewhere else. What is your family's story?

2. The Devil's Highway is the story of the U.S.-Mexico border, but it is also about many other invisible borders. Aside from the physical border itself, what other borders separate the people in this story?

3. What borders separate all of us as people? If these borders exist, is there any way to bridge them? Or do we need these borders?

4. Is Jesus Antonio Lopez Ramos, aka Mendez, the villain of the story? Did he get what he deserved?

5. The theme of survival may be evident for the walkers, but how does it also apply to the Border Patrol and the smugglers themselves? To what lengths would you go to feed your family?

6. There seems to be a theme of occult and spiritual forces behind the scenes in the Arizona desert. Are these references offered symbolically, or are these presences an actual reality?

7. Luis Alberto Urrea writes that some of the Yuma 14/Wellton 26 were "aliens before they ever crossed the line." What does this statement mean?

8. In the opening pages of The Devil's Highway, the author draws a parallel between the issues of today's border and the United States' treatment of Chinese "coolies" in the nineteenth century. Can you think of historical parallels to any other current hotbutton issues?

9. The Devil's Highway examines the border from many different points of view. Do you think the author approached the topic with a truly objective eye?

10. Imagine that you have been granted the ultimate power to set border policy. What would you do? Why would your solution work? Why might it not?