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KGW follows deported illegal immigrants

by Jennifer Iveson

Posted on July 18, 2007 at 2:18 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:39 PM

by Jennifer Iveson

Wednesday through Friday at 6 p.m. on KGW Northwest NewsChannel 8, I report a three-part series called "The Deported". It is an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at the deportation process from start to finish, following the federal raid on the Fresh Del Monte Plant back in June.

I came to Portland from the border state of Arizona, and have spent a lot of time doing stories about illegal immigration. I am also fluent in Spanish, an advantage which enabled me to directly interview four of the people deported from the Fresh Del Monte Plant in Portland.

My colleague Pat Dooris was kind enough to throw my name in the mix with federal agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as soon as he learned of my Spanish skills, as we worked to follow up on what happened after the federal raid on the Fresh Del Monte Plant.

This report is a chance to tell a story we don't get to see every day. The ICE agents we worked with were incredible and gave us access no news media has ever had before. We stood side by side in pods with the inmates at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. We were allowed to shoot video of every move that was made inside the federal facility. They did not discourage inmates from talking to us. In fact they allowed me to walk into a holding cell where 36 Del Monte workers were waiting and ask if anyone was interested in being interviewed.

Four workers agreed to speak with us. Our interviews were not supervised. I was allowed to take the willing participants away from the rest of the crowd and sit down with them one-on-one. I sat in amazement as I learned about their lives. They told me they felt comfortable telling me their personal stories because I was willing to listen and talk in their native language. The women were emotional and the men were angry about what had happened to them at Del Monte. One of the women we talked to cried from the minute I asked her the first question, until we wrapped up the interview. You could feel her desperation as she talked about her work week in Mexico for just $5 a day after 12 hours of work. And, you could quickly understand how she, like others in the group, risked what they did, coming to a country where they could make 60 times that in a week's pay at the Fresh Del Monte Plant in Portland.

Watch part one of The Deported here.

Watch part two of The Deported here.

Those I talked to say they would rather stay in their native countries with family members and friends who would never be able to cross. But, circumstances make them feel desperate enough that they are willing to risk everything to cross.

There are jobs they get hired to do without having proper documentation. Jobs they are very willing to do that many Americans reportedly are not.

I realize now more than ever, after watching the jobs of the U.S. Marshals and the ICE employees and the guards, and after sitting down and listening to those in handcuffs and leg shackles awaiting deportation...there is no one side to this story. So many people are affected by this issue.

We have many privileges in America and we owe that to our ancestors who came here from other countries. Most went through the process legally, but it's clear we can't ignore the border issues of this era. I've had the opportunity to ask people who are here legally from countries like Mexico how they got here and how long the process took. The minimum has been 7 years, and many tell me their relatives who are older have died waiting to go through the same process because paperwork took so long.

We were on the tarmac at Boeing Field as the inmates got off the buses and boarded a 737 jet bound for Mexico. The entire flight was done by officers of the U.S. Marshals Office who had to remain pretty tight-lipped about their trip plans for safety reasons.

It was fascinating to watch as they searched these workers up and down before they were allowed to board the plane. Underneath, they loaded small plastic bags...each one belonging to an illegal immigrant. Inside were the only belongings they had on them at the time of their arrest. It was an intense process to watch.

As I watched officers from the U.S. Marshal's Office frisk these illegal workers from top to bottom they were stoic. You couldn't see any emotion on their face about how they feel on the topic of illegal immigration. Only that it is their job to enforce the law, and it was clear, they take their jobs very seriously. There didn't seem to be any time in their schedules to stray from that task. None of them appeared to speak Spanish, only common words or commands, and they didn't have much interaction with the inmates other than instructing them where to go next. But, there was quite a camaraderie among the group of federal employees since they make several flights like this together every week.

"The Deported" is a chance to see the efforts of federal workers whose job it is to uphold U.S. law, and it is also a chance to hear from a group whose voice often goes unheard.

No matter what your opinion is about immigration, I hope these reports make you think and talk with your friends, families and your legislators.

What are your feelings on this issue?? Please feel free to send us your comments under the comment link here on the KGW blog site. It is that kind of discussion I hope this series will invoke.