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About Northwest labor press. (Portland , Ore.) 1987-current | View Entire Issue (Nov. 17, 2006)
… Case brings home immigrant predicament
(From Page 8)
At 7 p.m., several vehicles pulled
up, and eight agents from at least four
agencies, in bullet-proof vests with
badges, got out — ICE, Department
of State, Social Security, and federal
They searched the house, and took
Cobián to an office, interrogated him
there for several hours, then placed
him under arrest.
He was held at the downtown Port-
land Justice Center over the weekend,
and indicted Sept. 11 on three felony
charges: making a false statement on
a passport application, using someone
else’s birth certificate to obtain a So-
cial Security number, and making
false statements on a 2004 immigra-
tion petition to allow his wife to re-
main in the country.
Cobián spent the next two weeks
at Multnomah County Inverness Jail.
His arrest hit co-workers hard.
“We were all shocked,” said Sav-
age. “It was like, ‘Luis has been ar-
rested. What do we do?’ ”
Co-workers in Portland and Seattle
knew he had a family to support.
They reached into their pockets. It
was enough to pay the family’s bills,
but not enough to pay for an attorney.
Cobián was assigned public de-
fender Thomas J. Hester, who worked
out a deal. He pled guilty to the pass-
port charge, on the assurance the gov-
ernment would drop the other two
charges, and was released Sept. 28 on
bond to await his sentencing hearing,
scheduled for Dec. 21.
It’s a three-month limbo: Cobián is
not allowed to leave Oregon, but he’s
also not allowed to work, and he has
kids to feed.
Union co-workers began deliver-
ing boxes of food; individuals set up
direct deposit donations that now total
$450 a week.
“It’s pretty tough for me to even
accept donations,” Cobián said,
“coming from a country where men
are supposed to be the sole provider.
But in the end you have to show hu-
As many as 12 million illegal im-
migrants are believed to be living in
the United States, and illegal immi-
grants make up an estimated 5 percent
of the U.S. workforce. When the de-
bate over immigration reform broke
out in Congress earlier this year, the
Carpenters Union was among a num-
ber of unions that took a position sup-
porting a “path to citizenship” and full
civil rights for law-abiding immi-
grants who are already working here.
That stand provoked some contro-
versy within the labor movement, and
was the subject of heated debates in
local union halls. But Cobián’s case
has shifted the views of some local
Carpenters, including Savage.
“Right-wing radio talks about all
of them coming here, mooching off
government services, their kids going
to school for free,” Savage says. “The
reality is he’s paid into 15 years of So-
cial Security he’ll never see. And we
don’t even know if we’ll be legally
able to give him his pension. He’s not
about mooching. He’s a hard-work-
Carpenters contacted for this story
described “Luis” as a quiet pillar of
strength, a courageous and dedicated
organizer, a stand-up guy who never
shirked any task, a union true-believer
who could always be counted on, part
of the fabric of his community. In
short, a model citizen. Except he’s not
“This is a great country,” Cobián
said. “In my heart,” he adds, “I am an
In the eyes of the law, on the other
hand, Cobián is an illegal alien, sub-
ject to removal.
As of press time, Cobián’s sen-
tencing hearing was set for Dec. 21 at
2 p.m. That date could change.
The passport charge carries a
penalty of up to 10 years imprison-
ment and a fine of up to $250,000.
But since Cobián has a clean record
and no prior deportations, federal sen-
tencing guidelines call for a prison
sentence of six to 12 months. After-
ward, he faces an ICE administrative
proceeding on deportation.
“I am going to be deported,” Co-
bián said. “I’m going to be going
back to my country.”
Cobián admits to mixed emotions
about the situation. On the one hand,
he’s relieved at coming clean about
the deception, using his real name
again, and the prospect of living in the
same city as his mother and three
younger brothers and sisters. He’s re-
signed to deportation but dreads be-
ing separated from his family during
the expected prison term. And what
weighs heaviest, he says, is the likeli-
hood of reduced life chances for his
children — education and economic
opportunity. Because they were born
in the United States, Alexis and Dante
are citizens, but with their father fac-
ing deportation and their mother’s le-
gal residency consequently revoked,
they’ll be starting over in Mexico.
Cobián is trying to sell his house.
To prep it for sale, a crew of a dozen
union workers from several trades
came out to help him paint and land-
scape. But Cobián has been up front
about his status, and no real estate
agent has been willing to represent
him so far.
Cobián said he’s always worked,
and is already making plans for what
to do upon return. He would like to
apply his union organizing skills in
his native land, he said, but he’s put
off by the rampant corruption of the
traditional Mexican unions and the
long odds faced by more independent
“Here you hold pickets,” Cobián
said. “There you hold machetes.”
So instead, Cobián said he hopes
to work as a translator, or apply his
construction skills in one of Mexico’s
growth industries — building retire-
ment communities for American pen-
Cobián, or Mendoza, obtained a
withdrawal card from his union, and
doesn’t know whether or when he’ll
be able to return to the Carpenters.
But he says he’ll never forget his time
in the union, or the help they gave
when he needed it most.
“The union is, truly, a brother-
hood,” Cobián said. “You don’t know
it until you’re living it.”
Supporters have set up a fund to
help “Luis Mendoza” and his family.
Contributions can be made at any US
Bank branch or mailed to U.S. Bank,
636 SE Grand Ave., Portland OR
97214. Checks should be made out to
the Luis Mendoza Solidarity Fund.
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NORTHWEST LABOR PRESS
NOVEMBER 17, 2006