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Deportation of Illegal Workers Leaves Families in Quandary

Times Staff Writer

Paola Ordaz is feeling lost in America.

Her husband, Alfredo Garcia, was arrested Wednesday with 28 co-workers during a raid at a Riverside-area factory run by IFCO Systems North America, where he made wooden pallets.

He and his brother, Alejandro Garcia, both illegal immigrants, were immediately deported to Mexico as a result of a federal investigation into IFCO's hiring. They were among 1,187 workers taken into custody this week in a nationwide crackdown on the Dutch-based company, the largest manufacturer of wooden pallets in the United States.

His wife said he's now in Tijuana and has called her twice but is afraid to cross the border illegally again for fear of landing in prison.

Ordaz, 29, is left to care for three U.S.-born children under age 6, with no job, no money — not even enough for bus fare to rejoin her husband in Tijuana.

The $650 rent for their apartment is due May 1.

"I'm hoping to find a job now so I can support my children," said Ordaz, who quit school at age 10 to become a tomato picker. She has her husband's car but has never learned to drive it, and because of that hasn't explored much of the area west of Riverside where she's lived for the last seven years.

She's not entirely alone. Her sister-in-law, Maria Jarquin, wife of Alejandro Garcia, lives nearby. But she too is stranded. She must now support her 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son — both U.S. citizens — at least until she can leave for Mexico when the school year ends.

Until Wednesday, the immigration debate was mostly background noise for the women, who had comfortably inhabited the world of illegal immigrant housewives raising children in the United States. Neither they nor their husbands had ever faced deportation before.

Their husbands had spent several years as tomato pickers in northwest Mexico before coming to the U.S. to work. At the factory, they made $350 a week.

"We're all working, doing the hardest jobs," said Jarquin.

But immigration authorities said families like these made the choice to break the law.

"Families make the decision to come here and live illegally," said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Just because they had children here "doesn't convey that status on their parents," she added. "Those children are free to return with their parents to a home country."

She said everyone arrested has the right to request a formal hearing, although doing so might make it more difficult later to return to the United States.

At IFCO's Riverside-area facility, company officials declined to comment on the investigation, saying only that they had hired temporary workers from an employment agency to replace the deported immigrants.

Federal investigators allege that IFCO not only hired illegal immigrants but reimbursed them for buying illegal documents and coached them in avoiding detection. Ordaz said she knew nothing of this. Her life revolved around her apartment and her children, she said.

The Garcia brothers, according to their wives, had become reliable workers at the plant.

Alfredo had worked there eight years, after arriving illegally from their hometown of Ejutla, Oaxaca, Ordaz said. Over the years, he was joined at the job by Alejandro, another brother, a sister, a cousin and an uncle; all were deported after Wednesday's raid, she said.

Now, Ordaz said, her husband and the others are hoping to earn money in Tijuana to take a bus back to Oaxaca.

Friday afternoon, Ordaz wasn't sure whether she'd stay in this country or go back home.

"You come here to have a better life, but here they don't want us," she said. "We need to ask the Mexican government to give us jobs so we don't have to leave our country to survive."

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Times staff writer J. Michael Kennedy contributed to this report.

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