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As Congress moves forward with immigration reform, we take a look at how this issue connects to culture, business and families in the Northwest.Our region is home to a unique blend of immigrants who work in all parts of our economy — from high-tech to agriculture. This population already has a deeply-rooted history here. And its ranks are expanding rapidly.Proposals for comprehensive immigration reform address border security, employment verification, guest-worker programs and pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US.

Hunger Strike Leaders Have Day In Court

KUOW Photo/Liz Jones

Some leaders of a recent hunger strike at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma had their day in immigration court this week.

The detainees all faced a judge who would decide if they should be deported, or allowed to stay in the U.S. KUOW’s Liz Jones attended a hearing for one of the detainees.


[asset-images[{"caption": "About three dozen people filled the small court room in Tacoma Tuesday. Most wore T-shirts saying, “We support Ramon Mendoza.” ", "fid": "75798", "style": "card_280", "uri": "public://201409/P1040885.JPG", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Liz Jones"}]]About three dozen people filled the small court room in Tacoma Tuesday. Most wore T-shirts saying, “We support Ramon Mendoza.” 

Mendoza turned and flashed a nervous smile at his wife, Veronica Noriega. Then, he mouthed the words “Thank you” to the crowd.

This week marks one year for Mendoza in detention. He and Noriega live in Auburn with their three children.

After the hearing, Noriega was disheartened.

Noriega: “Yes, I’d hoped. My kids had hoped to see him today, but it’s not going to happen.”

After hours of testimony, the judge decided to continue Mendoza’s hearing in November.

Mendoza illegally crossed the border into the U.S. more than 10 years ago. Last year he was arrested for suspicion of drunk driving, then later turned over to immigration officials.

In detention, Mendoza helped spark hundreds of detainees to go on hunger strike. The protest gained national attention and prompted a bill in Congress. The strike called for better conditions in detention centers, and more broadly, an overhaul of federal deportation policy.

Sandy Restrepo is Mendoza’s attorney. She says her client’s case is emblematic of a flawed deportation system.

Restrepo: “He’s being threatened with being split apart from his family. Going back to a life that he doesn’t know anymore. His day to day life is here in the U.S and the standards set in immigration law are so high that and almost impossible to meet that it’s symbolic of what people have to go through.”

Crowd chants: “Not one more.”

Outside the center, supporters vowed to keep fighting deportation practices that separate parents from their U.S.-born kids.

In a previous statement, local immigration officials said the agency is committed to enforcement actions that focus on its priorities, including convicted criminals. Still, federal data show most people deported have only minor infractions, or no criminal record at all.

I’m Liz Jones, KUOW News.

Year started with KUOW: 2006