Since 2001, more than 2,100 migrants have perished beneath the Arizona sun.
It’s not a clean death. Dying from what coroners call exposure to the elements can be brutally elongated. The human body shuts down slowly, over the course of a few days or, in some cases, hours. In his award-winning book “The Devil’s Highway,” which follows the case of the Yuma 14, Luis Alberto Urrea describes the steps in gripping detail. “Those in shape will, sooner or later, faint,” he writes. “This is the brain’s way of stopping the machine, like hitting the brakes when you realize you’re speeding towards a cliff.”
By the last stage of heatstroke, hallucinations set in, and the body’s nerves are aflame. “You are having a core meltdown,” Urrea says. “Your temperature redlines — you hit 106, 107, 108 degrees. Your body panics and dilates all blood capillaries near the surface, hoping to flood your skin with blood to cool it off. You blush. Your eyes turn red: Blood vessels burst, and later, the tissue of the whites literally cooks until it goes pink, then a well-done crimson.”
It’s a painful, horrific way to die, yet many immigrants understand it’s now a necessary risk. Yet the trek to the United States hasn’t always been quite so dangerous.