ROME -- I spotted them on my way to dinner with a friend near Castel Gandolfo. They are migrants from Africa, sitting by the side of the road outside a "temporary" residence that, for many, appears to have become permanent. They all have cellphones. They all seem oblivious to us as we pass by.
My friend, a Sicilian by birth, says they are people from African nations the Italian government has taken in. The state pays 90 Euros (about $108 U.S. dollars) per day, per person, he says, but the migrants receive only a pittance, due to skimming by the Mafia.
"The Mafia is still around?" I ask. "I thought it was a relic, as depicted in movies like 'The Godfather" and "Goodfellas."
"Not so," he says. "They are getting rich off of these people and the government does nothing about it. They can't go anywhere because the government won't give most of them papers."
The Mafia may or may not retain its infamous title, but the corruption that was part of the old order apparently remains by whatever name it is called.
Last March, the newspaper Gazetta del Sud reported that Luca Odevaine, a former senior police officer and city official, admitted taking bribes of 5,000 Euros a month from a senior member of a Mafia gang to act as their "facilitator."
In a highly publicized trial two months ago, 59-year-old Massimo Carminati, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for operating a "mafia-style network" that, reported The Guardian newspaper, "used extortion, fraud and theft to divert millions of Euros that had been destined for public services."
Carminati, it said, is "The ringleader of a gang whose criminal tentacles reached into almost every department of Rome's City Hall."
Carminati's right-hand man, 61-year-old Salvatore Buzzi, was sentenced to 19 years in prison. In all, 46 people were tried and received various sentences. Only five were acquitted.
The skimming schemes have left the Eternal City so short of cash it not only is having difficulty helping migrants find a place to live -- and assist them to find jobs -- it is having difficulty repairing its buses when they break down, filling potholes or even keeping the city's trees healthy so they don't fall over and block traffic or injure pedestrians.
In July, The Guardian reported, "The city's mayor, Virginia Raggi, said a deep wound had been inflicted on Rome by 'a criminal association able to heavily influence the political decisions of this city.' She added: 'We are paying the price every day. We now need to stitch the wound back together by taking the path of legality -- no easy task. We need to keep our eyes peeled [for corruption] at all times.'"
Eyes have been deliberately blinded, not peeled, by people on the take, which has left too many others, especially the migrants, suffering in limbo because the money they should be receiving has been diverted into the pockets of organized crime and corrupt officials.
In Europe the debate over migrants continues with Germany's Angela Merkel saying she would change nothing about her open border policy. Opinion polls show she leads her opponents ahead of Germany's September 24 election.
Italy's experience with shifting demographics is unique. As the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) reports, "Italians have accounted for the largest voluntary emigration in recorded history, with 13 million leaving between 1880 and 1915." The exit has been so substantial and exacerbated by the nation's low birth rate that foreign workers must be imported to do jobs native Italians once did.
The MPI report notes: "By accident of geography, Italy has played an outsized role in the current European migration crisis, receiving more than 335,000 irregular arrivals via the Mediterranean during 2015-16."
That so many have been mistreated is a scandal to everyone, except the Mafia.