On any given morning, small knots of day laborers gather at various familiar locations around the East Valley.
Some time ago, I did a story about them. Once they realized they were talking to a reporter and not a cop, many freely admitted they were here illegally.
On a human level, they deserve sympathy. Who of us would willingly trade places with economic refugees whose daily bread depends on the chance arrival of someone offering a few hours of work?
Sympathy aside, however, their presence betrays the hollowness and hypocrisy of American and Mexican political and business leaders who pretend to care about border problems while at the same time profiting immensely from them. Their pretense was freshly exposed last week in a Time magazine story that focused on how illegal immigration has turned parts of Arizona into a disaster zone.
Granted, few countries in the world have borders like ours. The lines that separate us from Mexico and Canada meander for thousands of miles. To build Berlin-style walls along them — even were that deemed desirable and workable — would cost fortunes.
But while the government insanely spends billions of dollars forcing little old ladies to take off their shoes at airports, real trouble is sneaking in the back door.
Everyone knows, of course, that the vast majority of illegals are Mexican. Most of them are benign. But some are violent criminals who get into the country time and time again.
Worse, the incoming flood provides perfect cover for terrorists. Time estimates that just this year, 190,000 illegals from countries other than Mexico have slipped through the net. They include people from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.
Illegal immigration, Time reports, actually has soared in the "war on terror" era since Sept. 11, 2001, while fines levied on businesses that employ illegals have dropped 99 percent since 1992.
The presidential candidates pay only lip service to the issue. They’re too busy arguing over who’s the bigger liar about what they did in uniform half a lifetime ago.
But Time asserts the hypocrisy extends deeper than that, and that the bottom-line motive is money — especially corporate profits.
"The highest levels of the U.S. and Mexican governments have orchestrated this situation as a kind of dance," the magazine says. "Mexico sends its poor north to take jobs illegally, and the U.S., in turn, arrests enough of the border crossers to create the illusion that it is enforcing the immigration laws, while allowing the great majority to get through."
No, you can’t blame the shabby guys waiting for work on our street corners. They’re just trying to survive. And they, along with the rest of us, are just pawns in a deeply cynical game.