Former Arizona governor and now Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano nailed the real reason Arizona lawmakers passed, and her successor signed, the controversial Arizona immigration law that has stirred up such a fuss.

It is “a cry of frustration” she proclaimed on a recent round of Sunday news talk shows.

The border between the U.S. and Mexico is a war zone. I know. I lived in Arizona for seven years, working as a reporter on a Tucson daily newspaper. One of the last stories I covered before moving to California was a shootout in the rolling hills east of Nogales. Early one morning, schoolgirls en route to class found two Border Patrol agents dead beside their vehicle on a hilltop and a ex-con doper from Southern California dead in a marijuana-loaded pickup at the bottom of a nearby ravine. Apparently the customs agents had seen the doper drive across the border through a hole in the fence and waited for him up drive to the mesa where they were positioned.

It must have been quite a gunfight, even for a state synonymous with the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. That gunfight was 1881. This gunfight was in 1975 in ranching country not far from where a Cochise County rancher recently was murdered. Shell weapons were scattered all over that mesa near Patagonia — but not a witness to be found. Nothing has changed since I covered that deadly confrontation 35 years ago, except it has become more dangerous along the 350-mile Arizona-Mexico border.

Watching a television show recently about Border Patrol agents on the move in both the Nogales and Yuma areas looked frighteningly like the daily television reports from Iraq and Afghanistan. The only difference was the Border Patrol officers are not as well armed or equipped as the soldiers.

For all of those protestors who are castigating Arizona for its cry of frustration, claiming the law will only result in illegal profiling and violation of civil rights, they should go walk that border. Put themselves in harm’s way, and say it is not frightening.

As I watched the footage of Border Patrol agents monitoring the sand dunes near Yuma, it was a cat-and-mouse game as motorcycle-riding drug smugglers and U.S. law enforcement officers stared one another down across the fence that separated the two countries. The drug smugglers were plotting a night route across the sand. Border Patrol agents were determined to stop them. Profiling? You bet. Civil rights violation? Hardly. A deadly standoff? Absolutely.

The irony of the Arizona immigration law uproar is that Napolitano and Arizona Sen. John McCain less than three years ago proposed a guest worker program to provide workers for a labor shortage in the service industry. McCain now supports the new law passed by the state Legislature. They joined forces with agriculture in the guest worker efforts, but got nowhere because good old redneck Americans did not want no stinking illegals coming into the land of the free and the home of the selfish. Go to ancestry.com and find out where you came from.

Right or wrong, illegal immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador and other countries south of the border make the beds of fancy Scottsdale, Palm Springs and Las Vegas resorts, harvest the food we eat, mow the lawns and build the homes and office buildings. They do it because they are desperate to support themselves and their families.

Drug smuggling? What’s the biggest drug market for the South American drug cartels? The good old self-indulgent USA. Drug cartels are slaughtering each other and innocent people so they can control the drugs flowing into the U.S. It is all about money. If there were no market for the drugs, there would not be the loads of cocaine and marijuana barreling down U.S. interstates leading out of Arizona. America is the cartels’ biggest single customer.

Fences, hundreds more Border Patrol agents, soldiers lined up shoulder-to-shoulder with cocked and loaded automatic weapons and whatever else money can be wasted on will not completely seal the 2,000-mile U.S. border with Mexico.

It will take brave political decisions by discerning U.S. leaders to first create a realistic guest worker program that will allow men and women to make livings in the U.S. for their families and not die in the desert trying to get to the jobs. It will separate those wanting to work from those wanting to smuggle marijuana and cocaine. Parasitic human-smugglers, coyotes, would be put out of business.

The drug trade is far more hideous. I would hope our government is giving Mexico’s brave leader, Presidente Felipe Calderon, more than lip-service support for his war on his country’s drug trade. I am shocked daily, as I know you are, by the bloodshed and violence in Mexico as Calderon tries not only to shut off the drug trade, but to clean up a culture of corruption that has long been part of that nation. I certainly admire Calderon and wish a little of his courageousness would rub off on America’s leaders.

Arizonans can be a little rough around the edges politically, but the people who live there are experiencing fear most cannot fully understand. They are crying out in alarm and frustration. How would you like to live in the kidnapping capital of the world — Phoenix — because of the drug trade in that city? Arizona does not need the criticism it is getting. It needs the support and understanding of Americans to force political solutions to a war right here on this continent.

email: hcline@farmpress.com