Fleeing El Salvador for Tacoma

Cruz Velasquez served a 60-day sentence for a DUI conviction in the Pierce County Jail in 2011. Held on a immigration detainer, he feared he might be deported.
Dean J. Koepfler/The News Tribune

He came to America for a better life, to flee the fallout of a bloody civil war and the gang violence that now infests his native El Salvador.

For more than 15 years, Cruz Velasquez says he had found that life here – in Tacoma, in America.

He found it in a job as a window installer that, by U.S. standards, pays near poverty levels but earns him more money than he’s ever made.

He found it in Juana, a fellow illegal immigrant who bore him a daughter and a son – both American citizens, each delivered in good health at St. Joseph Medical Center.

And he found it in the home all of them now share: a modest rambler with a big tree in the front yard in South Tacoma.

But last summer as he awaited the end of a two-month term in the Pierce County Jail for driving under the influence – and the arrival of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to escort him to a privately operated detention center on Tacoma’s Tideflats – Velasquez knew the life he built here could vanish.

“If it happens, if I get deported, I wouldn’t want my children to go,” Velazquez said through a translator last August. “In El Salvador, there is trouble with gangs and just violence in general. I would prefer my children stay in the United States.”

Velasquez wasn’t giving up his family just yet.

Byline: 

A Drunk Driving Charge Leads to Deportation

With their hands and feet shackled, detained immigrants board a bus to Boeing Field for a deportation flight to Mexico in early August. 
Dean J. Koepfler/The News Tribune

Asael Lopez Carrada never saw combat during his time in the Mexican Army, but he described one of his final assignments as potentially just as deadly.

Dispatched high in the jagged mountains outside Chilpancingo, the capital city of the southern Mexican state of Guerrero, Carrada and his brothers-in-arms spent more than half a year in the early 2000s fighting on the front lines of his nation’s drug war.

“As soldiers, our job was to destroy the mafia’s illicit crops, like marijuana and poppies,” the 31-year-old said last year through a translator.

For Carrada, the work amounted to simply carrying out orders. But to the insidious drug cartels of southern Mexico, he became the face of the enemy.

“The (drug traffickers) recognized me because I was there for a while,” Carrada said. “When the operation concluded and they brought us back to Chilpancingo, people knew who I was. Twice, they followed me.”

For the better part of three decades, the drug lords of the opium-rich state have exacted a reign of terror across Guerrero. They’ve opened fire on entire police squadrons, forcibly seized government offices and gunned down public officials in broad daylight. And in recent years, Guerrero’s drug mob increasingly has targeted Mexican soldiers. The cartels have been known to pluck uniformed soldiers off Chilpancingo’s streets, dumping their decapitated corpses and body parts in public areas days later.

When his Army stint ended in 2001, Carrada opted to retire and fled to America.

“I met someone who said things would be better here; that I would be able to find a job and also be more at ease, because I felt very unsafe,” he said.

Byline: 

Agriculture is nation's biggest water polluter but usually goes unpunished

Eight times in seven years, a state inspector asked Joe Lemire to keep his cattle off the banks of Pataha Creek. Why? Because they drop cow pies in the water. Cows trample pollution-filtering streamside plants. Cows mash the banks down so dirt gets into the stream, which had been targeted for cleanup by the government since the early 1990s.

The state even offered to pay for fences to keep the cows out of the stream.

But Lemire refused. He fired back that the state couldn’t prove  his cows were polluting the stream, which cuts an undulating path deep into the volcanic plains of southeast Washington. When the state issued him a formal order in 2009 to keep the cows away from the creek, Lemire appealed to a state pollution-hearings board.

This fall his case heads to the Washington Supreme Court in what is shaping up as a pivotal decision about farmers’ obligations to protect Northwest waterways. In a related struggle, Indian tribes are charging that farmers such as Lemire are killing salmon.

Lemire is a 69-year-old retiree raising cattle and hay. He’s become a cause célèbre in the countryside, where farm bureaus are soliciting residents to send money to cover the costs of his legal fight.

“I was guilty until proven innocent,” Lemire said in an interview. “It makes it mandatory for me what’s voluntary for other people.”

Byline: 

Clean Water Act’s Next Role Could Play Out On NW Logging Roads

MOLALLA, Ore. — Mark Schmidt remembers fishing as a kid for steelhead on the Molalla River.

He also remembers how rain could ruin a day on the river.

“If we could so much as hear the raindrops on the shingles in the night, we were aware that we would not be fishing in the morning,” Schmidt recalls.

That rain sent dirt pouring from logging operations into the river. It made the water look like orange, wet cement. It often made the river unfishable for Schmidt – and downright unhealthy for the salmon and steelhead themselves.

That was in the 1960s. Today, the federal Clean Water Act and state forest practices laws require landowners and loggers to follow standards, called Best Management Practices, to protect the quality of myriad streams and rivers that flow through forests.

But some clean water advocates are calling for tighter regulation of one type of logging-caused pollution: muddy runoff from forest roads.

The U.S. Supreme Court will rule in the coming year on the question of exactly how the Clean Water Act applies to the hundreds of thousands of miles of logging and forest roads.

Byline: 

Maintenance Cutbacks For Forest Roads Mean More Sediment For Streams

Sixty years of heavy traffic by logging trucks, along with trips by forest managers and recreation-seekers have taken a toll on roads that run through Northwest forests.

Tens of thousands of miles of those roads are crumbling, sending sediment and other pollutants into rivers and streams. Fish don’t like that, and many people in the Northwest really don’t like it, which is how the federal Legacy Roads and Trails Program began a few years ago.

A coalition of 18 groups formed the Washington Watershed Restoration Initiative. They lobbied Congress and, in 2008, pried loose about $8 million to start chipping away at the federal forest road maintenance backlog in Washington and Oregon. The federal dollars peaked in 2010, but have been cut by more than half even though the roads continue to deteriorate and pollute the region’s waters.

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The drop in federal funding is frustrating, said Tom Uniack of Washington Wild, one of the founding groups in the Washington Watershed Restoration Initiative. “What really is important is to keep some funding coming into the program, to continue that commitment.”

The maintenance backlog for Washington and Oregon’s federal forest roads is big. To put the roads in “like new” condition would cost an estimated $1.1 billion, according to Rick Collins with the U.S. Forest Service, Region 6.

Byline: 

The Dream Act offers hope to a Kirkland, Wash., family

President Obama's announcement in June that some young, undocumented immigrants will no longer face deportation has stirred hopes for hundreds of immigrant families in the Northwest, many of whom have lived in the shadow of possible detention and deportation for years.

KUOW’s Liz Jones, working in collaboration with Carol Smith, has this report on the impact of Obama’s recent announcement on a Kirkland family with two high-school age girls.

Their report is part of a larger look, coming in August, at what goes on inside the Northwest Detention Center – a facility that looks like an industrial warehouse on East J Street in Tacoma, but that houses thousands of detained immigrants who are facing deportation. Smith and the News Tribune’s Lewis Kamb have spent months tracing the expansion of the privately owned facility and its impact on the region’s immigrant populations.

Prior to joining The News Tribune’s staff, Kamb helped launch InvestigateWest. This project marks the first collaboration between InvestigateWest and The News Tribune. KUOW is one of InvestigateWest's core news partners.

Byline: 

InvestigateWest adds Seattle entrepreneurs to its board

Big news. Mark Briggs and Jill Avey are joining InvestigateWest's board of directors.

Mark and Jill bring diverse business experience and an entrepreneurial mindset to InvestigateWest, qualities essential to the future of free and independent media.

We're thrilled to have them. Click through to see the full announcement.

Byline: 

Clean Water Act’s Anti-Pollution Goals Prove Elusive

Beside Seattle’s notoriously polluted Duwamish River, an excavator scoops up small pieces of waste metal and slings them onto a rusty mountain at Seattle Iron & Metals Corp. A pile of flattened cars and trucks squats nearby amid vast sheets of scrap metal.

For at least the last four years, this auto-shredder and metal recycler has dumped more pollutants into the river than allowed under the federal Clean Water Act, government records show. The levels have ranged higher than 250 times above what’s known to harm salmon that migrate through the river.

The company, which declined to comment for this story, has reported its violations to the government, as required by law. But instead of punishing the metal recycler, the Washington Department of Ecology encouraged the company to reduce its pollution levels. The agency also searched for a legal way to make Seattle Iron & Metals’ pollution limits more lenient, and says it plans to relax them soon.

The Seattle Iron & Metals story is emblematic of widespread failures in the nation’s efforts to end the toxic pollution that modern life has unleashed on America’s rivers, lakes and bays. The Clean Water Act, passed by a large bipartisan majority of Congress 40 years ago, was intended to eliminate water pollution by 1985. Congress declared: “It is the national policy that the discharge of toxic pollutants in toxic amounts be prohibited.”

Yet in the Pacific Northwest, as across the nation, the Clean Water Act has fallen far short of its goals. A majority of Northwest waterways fail to meet federally approved water-quality standards. An investigation by EarthFix and InvestigateWest reveals:

  • Whole categories of polluters are effectively exempt from penalties when they dump pollutants illegally. This affects thousands of facilities.
  • Violations of the Clean Water Act in the Northwest occur routinely, yet citations and financial penalties are relatively rare.
  • Government bodies are among the most prolific violators, especially those that manage aging sewage-treatment plants and stormwater pipes that dump polluted rainwater runoff directly into waterways.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is ultimately responsible for enforcing the Clean Water Act, has handed over that responsibility to 46 of the 50 states, including Washington and Oregon. In Idaho, the EPA handles that job.