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Breaking News VOTE 2018

Raids turn Oregon city into ghost town

Woodburn is the largest town in Oregon with a Latino majority. More than a dozen men have been picked up in immigration raids. Now Latinos are afraid to leave their homes.
Just released:

WOODBURN -- Cesar Mora's customers disappeared in waves. Every time a rumor spread, his door stopped swinging open.

Mora runs Zapateria El Jalicience, a clothing store in downtown Woodburn. Men used to come in every Saturday to buy leather boots and cowboy hats for weekend parties.

Then President Donald Trump signed an executive order beefing up immigration enforcement. Federal immigration agents detained 11 men at a Woodburn gas station, leaving workers afraid to go to their jobs and children terrified to attend school.

Boots made of ostrich, crocodile and eel hadn't been touched in weeks. Mora's business is down 80 percent this year.

"I depend on people, whether they are legal or illegal," Mora said in Spanish.

Across the country, undocumented immigrants say they now live in fear of deportation. But most cities are only marginally changed by the immigration anxieties of a minority group that lives in the shadows.

In Woodburn, Latinos aren't the fringe but the very fabric of the town.

More than a quarter of Woodburn's 25,000 residents are undocumented. Nearly half struggle to speak English. But this was a town that taught people to dream.

In a generation, Woodburn residents transformed the state's worst Latino high school graduation rate into its highest. Mexican parents who fled violence to pick berries for $15,000 a year raised American children destined for college degrees and office jobs.

Latino candidates won a spot in the state Legislature, two on the school board and another on the City Council. They became police officers and school principals. Some obtained a green card or citizenship. Others worked and paid taxes but never obtained legal status.

This winter, as fear threatened to turn Woodburn into a ghost town, the dream immigrants had worked decades to build began to unravel.

Fathers who came three and four decades ago have disappeared on their way to work. Mothers refuse to leave their apartments, afraid the federal agents they call "La Migra" may be lurking at the grocery. Teenagers worry they may soon become the legal guardians for younger siblings.

After the arrests, restaurants' business plunged so sharply that chefs stopped ordering supplies in advance. Catholics say they spend Sunday Mass learning what to do if an agent approaches them. Fliers for community meetings and pro-bono attorneys hang in every restaurant.

"Almost everybody in town is impacted," said Chuck Ransom, the Woodburn school superintendent. "Everybody knows somebody or is related to somebody for whom that situation is real. Nobody can escape."



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