Now, when they talk about it, Zaida Villatoro and the other women refer to it simply as "La Redada."
The Raid: an event that stands between one life and another. A few of them have made it their business to talk about it, to share their stories with those willing to hear.
June 12, 2007 was another cold day in the plant -- cold and damp. Villatoro was cutting fruit at the Del Monte Fresh Produce food processing center in North Portland.
She heard a co-worker yell, "Run, run! La migra!" Agents of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were raiding the premises.
Everyone fled, Villatoro says, and it was chaos. She saw people climbing on piles of crates and others racing out the back door. About eight scrambled up and hid near the ceiling. She thinks they stayed until dark and somehow snuck out. One woman climbed high and fell, and an ambulance took her away.
The workers were herded through a hallway and onto a platform where ICE agents took their names and searched them: their hair, clothes, everything.
"I wanted to run to the bathroom and vomit," Villatoro says, "I was so afraid."
She had been working at the plant for approximately three months. It was her first job in the United States.
A total of 168 people were detained that day, accused of working illegally in the United States. Most were swiftly deported to Mexico and Central America, although a federal grand jury indicted 13 for alleged document fraud, identity theft, and immigration offenses. Eight of them have since been convicted.
Women with young children in the United States were given permission to remain temporarily to care for them. Others with serious health problems also were allowed to stay and make a case for not being deported.
So after being processed at the ICE detention center in Tacoma, about 20 women were sent back to Portland, heavy electronic tracking bracelets clamped on their ankles. And while her children are in Guatemala, Villatoro was one of those sent back to Portland.
She is applying for asylum, an option for those who cannot return home because of persecution or torture based on politics, religion, social group, nationality or race. She says that her husband, back in Guatemala, is an abuser, a drunk; that he kept a knife hidden under their mattress and often threatened to kill her.
The women, who spoke little or no English, got a quick education in American legal rights because as the raid was taking place, volunteer lawyers arrived on the scene. According to Siobhan Sheridan-Ayala, then with the immigration law office at Catholic Charities, their lawyers received a tip the morning of the raid that ICE was making a move on the plant.
As agents were rounding up plant workers, Sheridan-Ayala and her colleagues interviewed detainees to determine who might be able to successfully protest their removal. Although the process has been slow, Sheridan-Ayala says that some of these cases may soon be resolved.
None of those arrested in the ICE raid were officially employed by Del Monte; all had been hired by American Staffing Resources, an operation that recruited workers, provided false "legal" documents, and maintained an office right on the premises of the plant. Villatoro didn't know much about the agency; only that people said they could help her find work, and she was desperate.
"When you arrive you are so alone," she says. "No family, you know no one, and no English, so you can't communicate with the people. You don't know how things work."
Still, she must have understood she was being hired illegally. Based on the testimony of the undercover ICE agent who revealed the many abuses at the Del Monte plant -- after getting a job despite admitting he had no legal papers, the agent observed working conditions such as extension cords lying in water, filthy employee restrooms, and unsafe use of knives -- it was flagrantly obvious that the system, and the workers, were being abused.
But many immigrant workers feel they have little choice. The conditions at the Del Monte plant were not harsher or more hazardous than what they faced back home.
Villatoro is from near the city of Huehuetenango -- Huehue for short -- in the Guatemalan highlands, where she scratched out a living washing clothes by hand. "And in Guatemala," she says, "it is much more difficult. Because the clothes are much dirtier." She would be
paid about 10 quetzales -- just a little over a dollar -- for a long day's work. And a pound of meat cost 23 quetzales.
The job cutting fruit for Del Monte was cold, difficult, and dangerous, and the hours were long, but it was so much better than in Huehue.
Villatoro's story is one of many: The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that in March 2008 there were 8.3 million unauthorized immigrant workers in the U.S., making up 5.4 percent of the work force; 70 percent are from Mexico and Central America.
At the beginning, they called themselves "Las Mujeres del Brazalete," Women of the Bracelet, after the tracking devices they were made to wear. They now use the more-dignified name "Comit