Fear in the Valley

Immigrants in southern Colorado live in the shadows of anxiety following a high-profile raid

  • San Luis Valley residents gathered for a prayer vigil after an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid resulted in the arrest of 18 workers at a potato processing plant there in April


Four-year-old Miguel has an evening routine: He stares out his window across southern Colorado’s painfully flat San Luis Valley, waiting for his father, Roberto, to return from work at the Worley & McCullough potato processing plant near the town of Center. But on the evening of April 17, the routine was broken when Roberto didn’t come home. That morning, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers raided the plant and arrested him and 17 of his coworkers. Roberto was taken to a jail in Denver, more than 200 miles away. He didn’t see his family again for 10 days.

At first, Elena (the family asked that their real names not be used), told their three children that their father was just working longer hours, coming home after the children were in bed and leaving before they woke up. But after a few days, 6-year-old Alex overheard his mother crying on the phone — something about his father being in a jail in Denver.

Rather than trying to explain things like immigration and why people from something called “ICE” took his father away, Elena tried to convince her oldest child that he had misunderstood.

“Daddy is in Denver working with his cousin, not in jail,” she assured him again and again. She even called the school and asked Alex’s teachers to corroborate her story.

After 10 days, Roberto finally returned home. To the children, it seemed the family’s nightmare was over. But just a few days later, a letter came in the mail, ordering him to report to an immigration office in Alamosa, the bureaucratic hub for this vast agricultural valley. Roberto didn’t come home that night, either.

For two more weeks, Elena made up stories about the jobs he was doing with his cousin in Denver and the new car that he would be bringing home any day now. Alex seemed satisfied, and the stories helped Elena disguise the fear that had taken over her own life.


The San Luis Valley bust was just one in a string of increasingly regular raids across the country. In December, ICE agents converged on six Swift & Co. meatpacking plants in multiple states simultaneously, hauling away hundreds of workers. This summer, agents continued to ratchet up the pressure, netting 14 arrests in a raid on a U.S. Forest Service contractor in Idaho and over 100 more suspected illegal immigrants at an Oregon food processing plant.

Each raid tightens the grip of fear among immigrants living in the United States, sending tremors through their communities. Meanwhile, states have passed strict new immigration laws that exacerbate the anxiety. Yet evidence suggests that the raids have done little to curb undocumented immigration. Meanwhile, by further ostracizing “illegals,” the raids may actually worsen the problems associated with undocumented immigration and hamper assimilation for generations to come.

“This is a little bit of theater. It’s not unlike taking off our shoes at the airport,” says Tomás Jimenéz, assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego. “Like it or not, a lot of these people have children who are born in the United States that are American citizens, and their children will grow up here and stay here. If many of the children of these immigrants start out having their parents labeled illegal … it can have a ripple effect on assimilation well into the future, and that’s not good for the United States.”

Roberto immigrated to Colorado from Mexico 13 years ago and has lived and worked illegally in the valley’s mushroom farms and potato facilities ever since, using a fake social security number. Elena followed him here, and all three of their children were born in Colorado as American citizens. Since the San Luis Valley raid, Roberto has spent more than three weeks in detention centers, constantly living under the threat of deportation. During that time, federal marshals convinced him to testify against his former employer. He must stay in the state, and he can’t work or drive while he waits to testify, which could be several months or longer. In the meantime, Elena says, there is mostly just fear.

“Everyone’s afraid now. People are panicking, and lots of people are afraid to leave their houses. I haven’t gone to the grocery store in a month, I’ve been so scared of getting picked up.”

That anxiety has been widespread among all the valley’s immigrant workers, not just the families of those arrested in the raid. Immediately after the news broke that ICE was in town, a tidal wave of rumors flooded the tiny communities and the 8,000 acres of farm and ranch land on the valley floor.

“The next day, a text message went around that there would be a raid at the school,” recalls George Welsh, superintendent of the Center Consolidated School District. He estimates that about 20 percent of the district’s students come from homes where at least one family member is here illegally. “We had to send around another message saying, ‘The school is the safest place for your kids to be …’ but some families disappeared with their kids and still haven’t come back.”

Jul 20, 2007 01:35 PM

Not buying it. This article is so one sided. What about the people in our inner cities who live in fear of gangs and drug dealers who are illegals? What about the families that are broken up when a loved one is murdered by an illegal alien or run over by a drunk illegal alien?

Jul 23, 2007 11:40 AM

Roberto immigrated to Colorado from Mexico 13 years ago and has lived and worked illegally in the valley’s mushroom farms and potato facilities ever since, using a fake social security number  This is a felony and ID Theft .


Deport the criminals 

Jul 23, 2007 12:57 PM

Thanks for this great piece!

Jul 23, 2007 01:06 PM

Leaving aside the emotional hooks embedded in this story and the small picture it covers, the big picture cause of pollution and indeed that percentage of 'global warming' related to human activity, is unrestricted population growth.

Jul 23, 2007 01:42 PM

Roberto immigrated to Colorado from Mexico 13 years ago and has lived and worked illegally in the valley’s mushroom farms and potato facilities ever since, using a fake social security number  This is a felony and ID Theft .


Why is it our problem if they are one illegal immagrants and two stealing US Citizens Social Secureity numbers, using our system because they think we owe them something.  It costs US Cititizens millions of dollars every year because of the Illegal Immigrants that live in our country.  I feel sorry for their children but what they are teaching their children is it is ok to basically go into someone elses home and steal from them.  So if any one is teaching the Illegal Immigrants children the wrong thing it isn't the United States it is their own family!!

Send them all back to Mexico.  If they want to be here make them come into OUR Country the right way!!!!..

Jul 23, 2007 02:05 PM

Americans are considered bullies, in the world, and for good reason.  The milk of human kindness that used to course in our veins has been replaced with vain posturing about these "illegals".  We eat the potatoes they harvest, and the beef they process, at bargain basement prices (from a world price perspective).  We're willing to take advantage of these illegals, because in the end analysis, we worship the almighty dollar, before human dignity.  To those who say, "Stay in your own country", I say, "Pay an American "legal" a fair wage", and give him the security and the dignity of doing an honest day's work.  In other words, lets stop being such hypocrites.  And lets show a little more of the milk of human kindness that used to characterize us "legal" Americans.

Rohan Hindman, Palisade, Colorado 


Jul 23, 2007 02:06 PM

abolish the law that allows for anchor babies!

Jul 23, 2007 04:00 PM

Good, I'm glad they are living in fear.  They are criminals!  Deport them all!  Torijo

Jul 23, 2007 04:47 PM

Why is it that virtually all of you print media "reporters" are only able to approach a story from an emotional standpoint?

These people are not immigrants per se but invaders! Once they gain entry,  then they become criminals as well. Their total disregard for our laws, our citizens, our principals and our culture are clear evidence of this.

The concept of theft is an ingrained nature of these "Poor down trodden citizens of a backward nation". This backward nation, Mexico, has never, NEVER been an ally of the USA. In fact, the country, its citizens and its laws have favored all nations which have born arms against the USA.

The "anchor baby law" is not only out of date in  todays world it is stupid. It has become sacro sanct for the protection of the invaders. Our Publiclicly elected officials are responsible for the enforcement of ALL of our laws and defending the constitutional rights of each and every CITIZEN, not OCCUPANT. When they fail to perform this function to their utmost ability, their derelection of duty approaches treasonous behavior. In example, I give you Mr. Bush (President) who, in the face of a public poll response of 70% plus, of the American Citizens who stood against his recent and personal attempt to force the passage of immigratiion/amnesty law. His arrogance and action is treasonous in that he is thwarting the will of the people whereupon he fails to "...protect and defend the constitution against all enemies..."  thereby  CLEARLY violating his oath of office.

When our elected officials fail to act then we, as citizens, must take personal responsibility to facilitate the enforcement of the law as well as seek the removal of those elected officals. 

So my fellow citizens and you emotional members of the press, I recommend that you report any and all of the illegals you find, know of, and/or hear of to the nearest ICE members Law Enforcement officials for arrest and deportation. Further, report all those companies and individuals who provide them jobs as well as the Church personnel who provide them succor.

Those anchor babies will have the opportunity to grow up in their true country of origin and perhaps then, when they are of age, they may apply for a US of A passport.  Hopefully, by then, the law will be removed or ammended and they will be faced with some limited rights until such time as they prove their worth to gain residency along with their "birth-right" to legally enjoy the benefits of citizenship in the US of A. To this point, I suggest a three year mandatory service in the armed forces.

R.R. Susnar

Jul 24, 2007 11:38 AM

this article is why I stopped subscribing to High country News

Jul 24, 2007 04:11 PM

I don't see where anyone gives this hardworking,taxpaying andSocial Security contributing man credit for giving a large portion of his minimal wages to us!      I do see that most of the ranters are Anonymous. The people that show some humanity and understanding + recognzing that we have a global population and resource supply problem that is at the heart of this issue are not.     I also note that the raids of a few years ago in resort communities like Vail, Colorado and Jackson, Wyoming have stopped. The wealthy employers in those places threw such a fit that ICE enforcement became even more selective than it has always been.

Jul 24, 2007 05:11 PM


I grew up in the midwest, lived in Tucson for 17 years, lived in Mexico 6 months, was a bilingual educator, traveled to Spain, as well as other places overseas.  Nowhere on the planet can people just walk in a country and do whatever they want and get free handouts EXCEPT in the U.S.A.  The schools are being destroyed by the burden of a non-participating sub-culture of people who DO teach their children to be dishonest.

EXAMPLE:  Dodge City, Kansas has become an illegal haven full of aweful crimes and mega drug business.  It is reported by locals that 90% of the town is illegal.  They supposedly work in the cattle industry--stockyards, slaughter houses.  Yet they freely create businesses to sell exclusively to their own, and do many unlawful things.

They are hiding out in small towns in central rural Kansas. 



Jul 27, 2007 12:06 PM

This is in reply to most of your comments, except Rohan Hindmans, who was the only one with actual truth behind their words.

 It is true that:

 - This country was founded on immigrants and this country is and will always be considered a melting pot.  That doesn't change in a today's world or tomorrow's.  And for those worried about terrorist attacks - easy solution - document those already here with working visas. 

- There are problems with gangs, drug dealers, and crimes committed - but that goes for all backgrounds, not just illegals.  I do agree, that they should get deported if convicted of a certain level of crime.

 - Finally, do you know how much time and money is spent on these "raids" or other forms of identifying illegal immigrants.  All that could be going to more valuable use like going after the drug dealers, gang members, etc.  and getting those that dont deserve to be here or respect American Laws and going after those illegals giving reason to people like most of you that classify them as INVADERS, TRESPASSERS, CRIMINALS.

Pres Bush has done MUCH worse to be called for Treason.  Trying to set  up a system where current illegal immigrants have a way (and by a way i mean paying back taxes, a high fee, documentation)  to work here legally in jobs that many current "Americans" dont want to work was one of his better moments.

Invaders??? Trespassers?? Anchor Babies?    You all sound like the 21st century Nazi's.   

 Of course its one sided - This editor chose to take an emotional swing at the situation - which is great because although most U.S. citizens dont encounter anything less than casual confrontation with illegal immigrants, there are still some that an illegal immigrant has affected them in a negative way.  But dont stereotype them all in one category.  As in this article you can see someone working low wages to support his wife and american children.

 - J.V.

Aug 02, 2007 06:34 PM

It takes a lot of courage in The West to write an article about immigrant workers without resorting to xenophobia and racism.  Thank you. 

Aug 03, 2007 11:07 AM

To all those hateful comment-posters: How many people like this have you looked in the eye, gotten to know?

Because I actually know the family featured here, and when I look them in the eye when they come twice a week to my English class, trying to make a better life for them and their children, I become sad thinking that there are people who post comments like yours out here on the web, while these people are struggling to keep the structure of their daily life intact.

Think for one second about the privilege you have of being in this country with permission, and all the resources this gives you access to. Now think of a family who never had access to those, still doesn't, and is confronted with a few close allies, and a wall of hate beyond that. Are you proud of how you are treating your fellow human being? There is still time to change.

Thank you,


Aug 03, 2007 11:09 AM

I want to thank the High Country News for writing this article.  The article portrays the true impacts of our ineffective immigration policies. 

We need Comprehensive Immigration Reform that includes things like a path to citizenship, the elimination of long waits (some people wait more than ten years for a yes or a no on their VISAs) and equal protections for all workers. 

Reform will change the climate, making it easier for new immigrants to integrate into our communities and for all of us to have our rights respected. 

I appreciate the author of the article sharing with us the terror that immigrant families face all over the United States and the strength of the families and the community. I hope that we can all come together as a community and to move forward. 

I'm not from the Valley. I'm from Denver, but I've lived in the Valley.There is a long history in the Valley of exploitation and using fear to keep the workforce in line. There is also a long history of community, of gaining justice through organizing and of strength. I hope for a new future and a united community where all our children can go to school without fear. I hope for a community where hard work is valued no matter who you are and where we can all come together. 

Aug 03, 2007 11:09 AM

If free markets worked, the labor market would distribute employer cost and employee gain equally over a global free market. Comparable work would merit comparable reward. But those who trumpet the benefits of free markets conveniently forget the labor market. We do not have a free market for labor.

Poor people in poor countries live with unsustainable decay, hunger, sickness, waste and toxity as a festering social entropy and punishment for being poor. It is no wonder they leave their homelands to enter the international labor black market to seek what their labor is worth.

Fair trade policy can make up for some of the discontinuities in the global labor market. Fair trade policy lures migrants home with fair labor conditions, a living wage and the right to organize in their home countries. That’s all the migrants, our ancestors included, ever wanted from america.  The crux of a progressive migration policy that works is a free trade policy that supports our quality of life at home by promoting quality of life abroad.

Aug 03, 2007 11:14 AM

Since the argument against undocumented immigrants is so hung up on their "illegality", I think we need to take a closer look. 

Once in our country it was illegal to be of African descent and be free to live and work where one wished. Once it was illegal to not own property and attempt to vote. Or to be female and do the same. 
And, in contrast, let us remember that once it was legal to round up US citizens of Japanese descent and place them in internment camps simply because of their ethnicity. Once it was legal to round up human beings on another continent, put them in huge ships where many died, and, upon arrival, sell them on the auction block for profit. 
Today it is legal to go into people's homes and workplaces, to stop them on the highway, and because they have been contributing to our economy, entwined in our communities, but doing so without proper paperwork, throw them into indefinite detention. Or send them home. Today it is legal to have policies which force people into the desert where hundreds die annually in the simple pursuit of a better life for themselves and their families.
Many of us say that if the undocumented would just come legally, like our own ancestors did, we would welcome them with open arms. But those of us whose ancestors came centuries ago faced none of the barriers we have in place today. They came legally because only 1 percent of those who arrived at Ellis Island were turned away, if they were deemed criminal or insane. If those rules applied today, we would not have so many that we can heartlessly call "illegal". 
We are a nation of laws and we have changed our laws when they do not serve us, our country, or our morals. It is time to change our immigration laws so we can see people, regardless of their immigration status, as fellow human beings.
Aug 03, 2007 12:22 PM

Maybe all of you should go back to your own countries - unless you are Native Americans, of course. The only reason any of you anglo-saxons (including myself) are here because over 500 years ago your forefathers invaded this country and took it away from the indigenous people who lived here. So, guess what: you are all anchor babies or offsprings of anchor babies. - The roots of many of the people you call 'criminals' and 'invadors' go back much further in this country than most of you that complain.

 I just wished you would turn your anger against the real criminals here: the people that are currently running this country by lying, exploiting, covering up truths, etc. Most of your taxmoney goes to wars around the globe, just so the multinational corporations can get richer. Why do you not get outraged about the corporations shipping the jobs overseas (you cannot even make a phone call nowadays that is not answered by someone overseas!). Why do you not insist on enforcing the borders for corporations as you want to enforce them for people? Do you even realize that most of the people that come here illegally do so because there is a 20 year back-log to come here legally and because their ecconomy has been wiped out due to multinationals (mostly based in the US)? They have taken the jobs from workers in South America, the same as they have from us here and shipped them to China and India. Many of those corporations are heavily subsidiced and protected by the US government - yes: your taxmoney!

If the current administration has done one thing extremely well: it has succeeded in dividing the country into ethnic sections that hate and intimidate one another. They know that "united we win, divided we fall" - and they are counting on it to continue building their empire undisturbed, because people are too busy bickering against one another instead of taking the head out of the sand and seeing the big picture.

If I may suggest a book to read on this subject: Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins. - It sure was an eye-opener for me. - It would also be a good idea to study German history, unless you want it repeated in this country!

Burgi Ruffatti - Denver

Aug 03, 2007 03:40 PM

I think the anchor baby conversation is an interesting one.  I wrote Senator Salazar, who did not answer the question, but rather provided political rhetoric. 

It is probably an antiquated law, passed during an era that did not contemplate the ease of transportation.  A friend of mine travels extensively in Egypt and has developed close friendships with several families.  Recently, one of the Egytian ladies become pregnant and came to the United States to give birth.  She returned home immediately thereafter.  Her son is now a US citizen.

 This topic goes far beyond those who can walk to the US to give birth.  The constitution must be amended to reflect modern transportation.  And, our politicians must begin responding to their constitutents, whether we agree with them or not.

 Cindi B.

Sep 09, 2007 03:14 PM


They should live in fear. They are criminals who have broken the law. If they want peace of mind, follow the law and leave.

But what I would really like to see is a story about those hard working legal immigrants. The law abiding ones who have done all the paperwork, jumped through all the hoops we set, been checked out for diasease, passed a very difficult US history test, and while waiting to step foot in the USA, have learned English.  They are concerned because it has been 10 years and they want to join their families, but they see all the illegals filling jobs and jumping ahead of the line, and feel that they are being cut out of the system while law breakers benefit. Now who do you want for your neighbor? Lawless illegals who do whatever they want and yell racism if the law is enforced? Or law abiding, responsible people?

 Besides, how can there be amnesty? Doesn't the constitution require equality under the law? Two American families, one Hisapanic will its illegal family here, and one African American whose family member have done it right. Are we saying the illegal Hipanics get prefernce?

And what about straight racism? Americans come from all over. But amnesty gives mstot the spots to Hispancis. Is the government also going to bring in 12 million Asians, Africans, Europeans etc so no race is favored?

No, we must enforce our laws and deport every sincle illegal.