They were almost certainly undocumented immigrants, some of the millions of people who, struggling against extraordinary obstacles, have found their way to the United States from Third World countries in the past few years.
Make no mistake-- we are witnessing one of history's great migrations. Just as the great immigrant waves of the 19th and early 20th centuries created a new country, so too will this vast movement of people from Latin America radically reshape the United States.
Every poll shows that Americans overwhelmingly oppose large-scale illegal immigration, yet it continues unabated. President Clinton or President Bush; before 9/11 or after; red states or blue states -- it doesn't matter. Desperate people, who dream of working long hours for (by our standards) low pay, are willing to risk their lives to get here. And despite public opposition, that's just fine with a lot of folks.
Conservatives like having a steady supply of eager low-wage workers -- keeps unions docile and labor costs low. Liberals are delighted to see more Hispanics -- that means, eventually, more votes for Democrats. And Hispanic power brokers welcome a larger, more powerful community. And most of us, although we may listen respectfully to the Dick Lamms and Tom Tancredos of the world, sympathize with poor people who just want a better life.
And let's face it -- it's not as if all illegals were hired by some vast multinational corporation to work in underground sweatshops. Many undocumented workers are hired by small businesses, or even by individuals -- including Tancredo -- to work as roofers, as landscapers, as cooks, as dishwashers. There are millions of such jobs, and, with an aging work force, there are fewer and fewer native-born workers who want 'em.
So let's be realistic; this is not about to end. While we worry about trivia -- will you, or I, or anyone not living there, care one thing about Iraq 10 years from now? -- we're in the midst of world-historical change. We ought to think carefully about our oh-so-predictable future ... and you know something? It's already here.
And no, I don't give a damn whether those Latino/Latina hordes have overrun our precious little WASP country with their loud music and bad variety shows (Sabado Gigante, anyone?). As far as I'm concerned, all the snobby elitists who worry about our cultural heritage can just stay inside and listen to their old Patti Page albums -- and if being overwhelmed by Hispanic culture means never having to listen to "How Much is that Doggy in the Window," then I'm all for it.
But there's a serious problem that is exacerbated by immigration, whether legal or illegal. And it's a problem that we never quite name. We call it "unrestrained growth," or "poor planning" or "developer greed." We blame it on Rocky Scott, or Steve Schuck, or the Pikes Peak Association of Realtors, or the HBA. We think that everything would be OK if we could just get rid of our developer-owned City Council, or if we could stop Utilities from subsidizing growth. We just don't want to call our problem by its real name: overpopulation.
In 50 years, we've gone from a small city of 40,000 folks to a metropolitan area of 500,000. That's an increase of over 1,000 percent! If we continue to grow at the same rate, by 2054, the population of Colorado Springs, at 5 million will be about that of the entire state in 2004. Of course, that's impossible ... or is it? Consider Mexico City, ancient Tenochtitlan, which in 1904 was one of the most beautiful, livable cities in the world, home to less than 500, 000 souls. A century later, more than 23 million people live there, most in poverty. It's the same story throughout the Third World -- Cairo, So Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Karachi, Nairobi.
We think that our fate will be different. Sure, we may be sprawling, smoggy and frenetic, but we'll be free and prosperous -- Los Angeles, not Calcutta. Or will we?
I can tell you from experience that ordinary citizens of Colorado Springs were much richer 50 years ago. In 1954, we had silent, star-filled nights, hunting and fishing within 10 minutes of town, and slow-paced, unhurried lives. That lifestyle has disappeared, unless you're retired with a few million in the bank.
And 50 years from now? I'll be long gone -- and it may be, as Long John Silver said, that "Them as died was the lucky 'uns ..."