Tag Archives: Catholic Charities

Oregon bill adds to chorus against human trafficking

By Amanda Waldroupe, Staff Writer

Oregon is becoming known nationally as “a hub” for human and sex trafficking. The convergence of I-5 and I-89 makes Oregon “a particularly vulnerable place for trafficking,” says Chris Killmer, the program manager of Catholic Charities’ human trafficking program. Oregon’s proximity to California and Mexico, as well as Southeast Asia, its high number of migrant workers, and a thriving prostitution industry has resulted in a level of activity related to human trafficking that Multnomah County Commissioner Diane McKeel calls “disturbing.” Continue reading

Immigrant workers face extremes of economic crisis


Published in the May 1 edition of Street Roots

Growing up in the riverfront manufacturing town of St. Helens, Yesenia Sanchez knew only a handful of other Latino families. Born in Oregon to Mexican immigrant parents, she was one of the only non-white students in her class. Still, she says, she was never aware of any significant racial tension.

That changed last year, when economic troubles stirred political unrest, which in turn brought animosity bubbling to the surface.

Columbia County, where St. Helens is located, has a small but fairly settled Latino community. Some, like Sanchez, are citizens, some are legal residents, and others are undocumented immigrants.
In November, Columbia County voters passed a ballot initiative to penalize businesses that employed undocumented workers with a $10,000 fine or revocation of their business license. Another measure, which was voted down, would have required construction sites to display large signs declaring them for legal workers only. Latinos in the community, regardless of their immigration status, felt targeted.

“I’d never really experienced overt racism, or at least not that I can remember,” says Sanchez, now a college student at the University of Oregon in Eugene. “I never thought that part of my community wanted to essentially kick me out — didn’t want me there, my family there.”

Columbia County isn’t the only place Latinos are feeling the pressures of the recession in full force.

Oregon is home to almost 400,000 Latinos, most from Mexico. Their median income in 2007 was just over $18,000 per person a year, according to the Pew Hispanic Center; the average for Oregon is about $25,000. Latinos were already more likely than other Oregonians to live in poverty and less likely to own their own homes.

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Two years after the Del Monte raids


Published in the May 1 edition of Street Roots

Now, when they talk about it, Zaida Villatoro and the other women refer to it simply as “La Redada,” The Raid: an event that stands between one life and another.   A few of them have made it their business to talk about it, to share their stories with those willing to hear.

June 12, 2007 was another cold day in the plant — cold and damp.  Villatoro was cutting fruit at the Del Monte Fresh Produce food processing center in North Portland. She’d been handling vegetables for several weeks, chopping them for salads to be sold in plastic boxes, but when fruit season came she was reassigned.

She heard a co-worker yell, “Run, run! La migra!”  Agents of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were raiding the premises.

Everyone fled, Villatoro says, and it was chaos. She saw people climbing on piles of crates, and others racing out the back door. About eight scrambled up and hid near the ceiling. She thinks they stayed until dark and somehow snuck out. One woman climbed high and fell, and an ambulance took her away.

The workers were herded through a hallway and onto a platform where ICE agents took their names and searched them — their hair, clothes, everything.

“I wanted to run to the bathroom and vomit,” Villatoro says, “I was so afraid.”

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