I got a response from Mr. Urrea this week answering the questions some of us had about his book, The Devil's Highway. I'll post his response here. The questions I asked him in my email were: Why did you write the book? And, are you in touch with any of the survivors?
Here is his response:
" ...As far as why the book was written: it was a request from New York. After Across the Wire, By the Lake of Sleeping Children, and Nobody's Son (about to be re-released with a beautiful new cover, by the way), I thought I was through with the border. I certainly had no plans to write another book about it.
However, Little, Brown contacted me and basically told me they thought I was the only writer who could tackle this tragedy and do it justice. They wanted a "Trojan horse." In other words, a men-in-peril adventure that snuck secrets and revelations about immigration and immigrants into Mainstream America. What a challenge!
I never knew I'd be doing that duty for the Border Patrol too. But, I think, that's what helped make the book valuable.
The survivors. This is an interesting situation. Only recently have they been released from their vows of silence by lawyers and Immigration officials. The various lawsuits and criminal trials are over.
Through my movie team (how tacky does that sound) we have all been in touch with the widows and the people who went back home to Veracruz. We actually have some footage of them at their homes talking about it. The small cadre of men that survived, led by Nahum, still resides in Phoenix, with immunity provided by the US Government. But they are afraid of exposure and leery of "fame." Nahum, in fact, was going to come to my last series of readings in Arizona, but declined at the last minute. Mendez, on the other hand, remains in prison under death threats to himself and his loved ones. He will not talk. His lawyer has taken him correspondence from me, and the movie guys have tried to get him to open up, but he won't even answer their letters.
Now, the law enforcement side and the consular side have been very much in touch with me over these years.
Honestly, I thought I'd report on it and then move on and it would all be forgotten. I had no idea there would be a strange little Devil's Highway industry. I'm glad I didn't know, or I would have been more timid in my writing. I wrote with the kind of rage and fatalism of someone who was sure nobody gave a damn and wouldn't pay attention anyway. Oops. When the Pulitzer thing happened, you could have knocked me over with a feather.