David Bacon is a writer and photographer, and associate editor for New America Media. He is the author of The Children of NAFTA and sits on the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Committee of the Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition.
In 1947, Woody Guthrie wrote a song about the crash of a plane carrying Mexican immigrant farm workers back to the border. In haunting lyrics he describes how it caught fire as it flew low over Los Gatos Canyon, near Coalinga at the edge of California's San Joaquin Valley. Observers below saw people and belongings flung out of the aircraft before it hit the ground, falling like leaves, he wrote.
No record was kept of the workers' identities. They were simply listed as "deportee,"
and that became the name of the song. Far from being recognized as workers or even human beings, Guthrie lamented, the dead were treated as criminals. “They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves."
Hiding from the U.S. border patrol in an air-conditioning duct for nine and a half hours, Jorge Mendez couldn't even come down to urinate. As agents passed below, he had to keep from making the slightest noise.
As evening fell on November 5, Gilberto Soto received a call on his cell phone, at his mother's home in a working-class neighborhood of Usulutan, El Salvador. Unable to understand the caller, Soto stepped out of the door of her house to get better reception.
In the street outside, three men lay in wait. According to witnesses, they ran up to Soto, shot him in the back, and then fled in a car and bicycle as he lay bleeding on the pavement. Soto was taken to a local clinic, where he died shortly afterward.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Socorro Carrillo, Junior Tejano, and Davey Eng didn't really expect they'd be going back to work. Nevertheless, at the start of their normal 7:30 a.m. shift, they presented themselves at the ornate entrance to the Fairmount San Franciso Hotel, one of San Francisco's classiest establishments, backed by dozens of other workers, clergy, and public officials. Confronted with all these people and hoping perhaps that they'd go away, manager Mark Huntley waited half an hour before meeting them in front of the doors. When he did, despite their low expectations, the trio still found his message upsetting.
That morning, Edilberto Morales' supervisor called at 3. The phone rang in the apartment above the gun store, where he and five friends shared three rooms. They all got up, and in the cold darkness they put on their work clothes and made their lunch, their breath puffing like smoke in the September air.
Outside, the van picked them up a little before 6. Another nine people were already inside -- they lived in the apartment of the driver, Juan, just a few minutes away in the tiny town of Caribou, Maine. The men stopped at the gas station to buy snacks, and the van pulled out onto the road. Its destination lay more than two hours away -- a field of trees at the end of a network of dirt roads in the north Maine woods.