While Mexican President Vicente Fox visited with Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano and other East Valley leaders Tuesday morning, Ismael Gonzales and Emilio Renteria sat on a street corner in Chandler waiting for work.
Among the issues on Fox’s agenda was pursuing a guest worker program that would make it easier for Mexican nationals to enter the United States to obtain temporary work and bring their families into the country, thus curtailing the illegal border crossings so rampant in Arizona and elsewhere.
Each day in the Valley, dozens of men — many illegal immigrants — stand on street corners waiting for day jobs.
On Tuesday, as workers waited in Chandler and Mesa, talk turned to Fox’s visit and whether things would improve as a result.
"It’s possible that he’s trying to make it better for people coming to America looking for work," Renteria said. "When Fox ran for president, he told everyone that he would make it easier for them, so that’s why I signed (a petition) for him. But, I don’t think things have gotten better."
Men waiting for work at the Life and Light Day Labor Center in Chandler were more hopeful than their counterparts on the street that Fox’s visit will lead to a change in U.S. policy.
Manuel Mares, whose wife and two teen daughters live in Mexico, said the president’s plan would help keep families together.
"We’re so happy that Fox has come," Mares said. "He’s thinking of his people here. It’s much better to me to bring my family here because I have a very close family. Together, it’s much better. If I stay here and I get caught by immigration, then what do I do? What (does my family) do? It causes problems."
The violent trend in Arizona associated with smuggling of illegals was not lost on the men. As Fox was preparing to meet with the governor Tuesday, four illegal immigrants were killed and five people were injured in a suspected run-in with a coyote, or smuggler of illegal immigrants, on Interstate 10 south of Phoenix. Many laborers pondered whether the risk of dying is worth making the trek across the border for work. For all of the men interviewed, the answer was yes.
"For my family, I don’t care (about the risk)," Renteria said. "I’m looking for work, for money. In Mexico, there’s no jobs."
"When I came across (five years ago) it wasn’t as difficult," said Pablo Ortega, 37, a day laborer in Mesa who stood near Mesa Drive and Broadway Road, a popular area for workers to gather. "But now I have seen so many people suffer so much just to cross the border."
Jose Guzman, who was at the Chandler center, said hiring someone to sneak you across the border is a bad idea, but sometimes it’s the only option a man has to feed his children or help a sick family member afford much needed medications.
"It’s a bad idea because the guides take their money and there’s no security," Guzman said, "but it’s necessary."
Ortega said the Mexican president wasn’t the only one with the power to improve their lives.
"It’s also about the United States," said Ortega, who sends his earnings to his wife and two children in Hidalgo, Mexico. "They should give us some support especially if we’re going to work in this land. The United States should take more responsibility for us."