Arizona 85 is a little-used highway connecting Gila Bend with tiny Lukeville on the US-Mexico border. Were it not for the plentiful Border Patrol vehicles trolling for illegals and an occasional giant motorhome visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the highway would have little reason to exist. Well, not exactly. There is one contingent, however, that would still be using it – but not as a smooth surface for the rolling wheels of speeding vehicles. This contingent moves on foot and rarely touches the asphalt itself. Rather, the highway’s purpose for them is that of a beacon leading them to the rich cities and towns of the north. It avoids for the most part the bothersome hills and gullies that lie between Mexico and the allures of Phoenix, Tucson and Denver and thus serves a vital role in what can be a very perilous journey.

I am speaking, of course, of the illegal aliens who enter the United States by the thousands each year via our southern border. Anyone who has traveled through southern Arizona, New Mexico or Texas can’t help but be impressed by the omnipresent Border Patrol vehicles and numerous highway checkpoints. Signs at parks and campgrounds warn of dangerous smugglers and drug traffickers.

I had a more personal encounter yesterday as I rode my bicycle down Arizona 85. I was pedaling merrily along about halfway between Gunsight Wash BLM Campground and Organ Pipe when I heard a voice hail me in Spanish from behind a thicket of Creosote bushes. A disheveled man of about thirty years emerged. He wanted to know if I could spare him a little water. His only possession besides the jeans and t-shirt he was wearing was a 1-gallon black plastic jug. Since we were at least twenty miles from the nearest town, Ajo, I had little doubt I was encountering a “mojado,” an illegal alien.

Now, before I disclose what transpired between the two of us, I ought to make a few things clear: I am not one of the bleeding hearts who wants to open the borders to all-comers and transfer the wealth of the “haves” to the “have-nots.” I believe strongly that a country needs to have a well-defined immigration policy and stick to it. I consider the clamoring for illegal-alien amnesty to be an utterly cynical circumvention of the law for the purpose of vote getting.

That said and getting back to my little tete-a-tete on Arizona 85: This fellow had nothing. He had no pack, no provisions of any kind, no jacket even. Worst of all, he had no water – his plastic jug was empty. The day was not hot, probably 70 degrees, but the sun was bright. He was such a pitiful sight.

National policy is one thing but I’m telling you when you meet a man emerging from the bushes on a desert highway who looks like he’s been through a rough night and has the certainty of many rough nights ahead, national policy is not the first thing that comes to mind. To lecture this guy about national policy at that moment seemed utterly inappropriate. To deny him a drink of water seemed downright cruel. I poured the contents of one of my water bottles into his empty jug.

He asked me how far it was to Tucson.

“Tucson?” I replied. “Do you intend to walk all the way to Tucson?”

He nodded.

“Tucson is a long way – at least 100 kilometers” I told him. “You’re not going to make it on one pint of water.”

The impression I was getting of this fellow was that he didn’t have a clue about what he was up against. He couldn’t speak the language of this country. He didn’t have a map or provisions and two vast and barren tracts of land separated him from his objective. To the east was the nearly roadless O’Odham Indian Reservation separating him from Tucscon – a place where he could easily die of thirst. To the north was the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Gunnery Range separating him from Phoenix – a place where he could find himself on the receiving end of an errant burst from an A-10 “Wharthog’s” 30-mm cannon. To make matters worse, the reservation was crawling with highly mobile Border Patrol agents.

I couldn’t help but root for him. He was the ultimate underdog. He was technically a criminal but he certainly wasn’t a drug smuggler and he wasn’t out to hurt anybody. He was just an impoverished guy in search of a job.

He thanked me for my water and headed resolutely toward Tucson. I pedaled toward Organ Pipe. I got to thinking about what lay ahead for him and I wished I had given him my other pint of water – and my lunch.