October 11th, 2010
06:54 PM ET

Producer’s Notebook: As rescue nears, media descend on Chilean mine

Ismael Estrada
AC360­° Producer

Copiapo, Chile (CNN) - A walk around this mine site says it all.

Media from all over the world have filled the mountainside with tents, generators, makeshift live platforms and work stations. Mixed amongst the media are the families of the 33 miners who have waited since early August for their loved ones to resurface from the mine below.

There are tributes and flags everywhere we look, everyone waiting for that moment when the first miners are freed. There is a lot of buzz and anticipation here; everyone knows that the ordeal is near its end.

(More photos after the jump)


Filed under: 360° Radar • Behind The Scenes • Ismael Estrada
October 11th, 2010
12:28 PM ET

Arizona sheriff known for law-and-order style accused of abuse of power

Ismael Estrada
AC360­° Producer

Editor's note: Watch Anderson Cooper 360° Monday beginning at 10 pm ET to learn more about the allegations against Arpaio.

(CNN) - Make no mistake about it: Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is tough on crime.

The popular lawman has built a reputation for taking a strong-handed approach to those who break the law in his county. Whether it’s a DUI, a violent crime or being an undocumented immigrant: commit a crime and get caught in Maricopa and you may find yourself wearing pink underwear and a black-and-white striped jail uniform while a part of a chain gang cleaning up county streets and sleeping in a hot, sweltering tent.

The sheriff scoffs at those who challenge his tactics, holding countless news conferences and media events intended to show the world the consequences of being a criminal in his part of Arizona. His approach has worked; Arpaio has maintained a high approval rating and has never seriously been challenged in any election.

But those CNN talked with say look closer and you’ll find that Arpaio uses the same force and tactics against criminals and against those he considers a political threat - including judges, politicians who challenge his views and even people like Don Stapley, who sits on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, the local governmental body that approves Arpaio’s annual budget.

“Anyone who ruled against him, anyone who disagreed with anything he had to say, became a criminal target and criminally investigated,” Stapley said.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Ismael Estrada
September 7th, 2010
02:41 PM ET

Bachmann campaign gets mixed reception at fair

Gary Tuchman and Ismael Estrada

St. Paul, Minnesota (CNN) - It's 3 p.m. on a busy weekday afternoon at the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul.

Deep in the crowd of people enjoying buckets of chocolate chip cookies and fried corn dogs is two-term Rep. Michele Bachmann. The mother of five and foster parent to 23 others runs past fair-goers including parents pushing strollers to get to her next spot on conservative radio.

"We need to move quickly!" shouts one of her staff members. "We're on in two minutes!"

As she and her staff move briskly through the crowd, people shout both encouragement and insults at Bachmann. The Republican lawmaker has become a heroine and villain to voters in her 6th District because of controversial statements about the Obama administration, gay rights and taxes.

Full story

Updated: 2:41 p.m.

Filed under: 360º Follow • Gary Tuchman • Ismael Estrada • Raw Politics
August 2nd, 2010
09:36 PM ET

Leaving Arizona

Gary Tuchman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Ismael Estrada
AC360° Producer

This morning Gary Tuchman, photojournalist John Torigoe and I woke up in Santa Fe, NM.  We came here hoping to speak with illegal immigrants who have moved here from Arizona. We had read reports and heard rumors of people fleeing Arizona since the passage of the controversial Arizona law SB 1070.

We found a lot anecdotal information that people moved here recently, but no one we spoke with could give us the name of a person who had actually moved here. 
We lined up some interviews and on our way we noticed a large group of men looking for work. They were standing between a Catholic church and a park hoping someone would stop by and hire them for the day.

The men told us they were in the country illegally, but were happy to be in New Mexico, a state that they feel is inviting and compassionate toward illegal immigrants. I asked if they had noticed more people here from Arizona than usual and all said yes. They pointed to one man in the crowd telling us that he had come directly from Chandler, AZ.
The man identified himself as Hector. He says he's been here for 2 weeks and is living with some friends about 50 miles away in Albuquerque.  He says he left fearing he would be arrested and deported in Arizona where he worked as a mechanic for 12 years.  He has a wife and 3 children who were all born in the United States.  He says being deported would be a hardship on his family, as he would have to leave his kids behind.
Inside the Church we met Pedro, he tells us he moved here from Phoenix 2 months ago.  When he first got here he slept in the streets while looking for work.  He is in his 40's but has spent half of his life in the United States. He was a handyman in Phoenix and like Hector, had steady work.  He now says he can get work from time to time, but it¹s hard to find work in New Mexico even if the people here are more accepting of illegal immigrants.

Marcela Diaz, with the advocacy group 'Somos un pueblo unido' says she welcomes more immigrants to the community, but warns there aren¹t many jobs to go around.  She says that the smaller population and a bad economy contribute to some very trying times for people looking for work. Diaz suspects that if people relocate here from Arizona, it may only be for a short time. 
Both Pedro and Hector tell us they are willing to give New Mexico a chance, but they fear they may have to move on and moving back to Mexico may also be in their future.

Filed under: Gary Tuchman • Immigration • Ismael Estrada
July 28th, 2010
11:25 AM ET

Video: A day in the grapes

Gary Tuchman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Ismael Estrada
AC360° Producer

It's just before 6 a.m. in the California desert a little north of Delano. Migrant workers are showing up for another hot day on the job picking table grapes in temperatures expected to reach more than 100 degrees

Many argue that illegal immigrants come to the United States and take jobs away from Americans, but here not only are there no non-Latino workers, the labor contractor says not one has ever applied for this job... until today.

CNN Correspondent Gary Tuchman was among the workers today ready to put in a shift picking grapes that are then boxed and delivered to local grocery stores.

Photojournalist Kevin Myers and I are with him to capture Gary's day in the vines. We called the United Farm Workers representatives to ask if Gary could spend a day working here and they agreed.

When we arrive, we immediately notice we are unprepared. People are wearing long sleeve shirts and have their faces covered with various scarves and long brimmed hats. We showed up in t-shirts and jeans.

They tell us they wear the clothing to protect themselves from the heat and cover their mouths and noses to avoid breathing in much of the dust that can accumulate inside the vines.

As the day started, Gary was getting a crash course from other workers who have picked grapes here for decades. They were pointing out what should be picked, how they should be picked and what would remain on the vine for future picking.

The grapes were placed into large white containers and taken to another worker to sort them and place them in plastic bags to be boxed. Gary was handed some pruning scissors and told to get to work.

Workers here take this job very seriously. They get paid 8 dollars an hour before taxes and about 11 cents per box packed. They work in teams of 3 and Gary is teamed up with a husband and wife who have been working in vines like these for over 30 years.

The workers laugh and make jokes at Gary's expense, as it's obvious he's a novice at doing this work. They take the time to inspect all of Gary's work to make sure the company's quality control supervisor who inspects all of the boxes packed for delivery rejects none of the grapes he picked.

As the day presses on, it gets hotter and hotter. It's starting to become very uncomfortable, but you wouldn't know it listening to the workers laugh and sing while boxing up their fruit.

As Gary is working with his team, I talk with many of the other workers who tell me they're happy to be working. They say they have to earn as much money as they can now, because there are several months when the grapes are not in harvest and they won't be able to work.

I ask them why they come here to work and they speak of poor wages and conditions in Mexico. They say that while they only earn 8 dollars an hour here, they'll make that in an entire day working in the fields in Mexico.

Many of them have children who were born in the United States. Some have gone to college and others are married and living productive lives here as U.S. citizens.

5 hours into the day the foreman calls for a lunch break. Gary appears out of the vines looking hungry and thirsty. After we finish the 30-minute break, Gary heads back to the vines with the other workers, 3 hours of picking still ahead of them.

One of the workers says this is the hardest part of the day, the sun is getting hotter and the shade doesn't do much for the heat. The temperature is now 102 degrees.

Gary is starting to catch on to the work, but admits the work is not only physically exhausting; it's also tedious and monotonous. As the day draws to a close, a large truck comes through the work area and starts picking up the boxed grapes. It's the end of a long tiring day and while many workers will be back here tomorrow, none of us could imagine doing this every day.

Filed under: Gary Tuchman • Immigration • Ismael Estrada
July 27th, 2010
11:28 AM ET

Video: A fence no one can agree on

Gary Tuchman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Ismael Estrada
AC360° Producer

Program Note: Tune in to AC360° tonight and all this week for special coverage on illegal immigration in this country. We will have reports from the U.S.-Mexico border and Arizona. AC360° tonight at 10pm ET.

There isn't a noticeable difference between the United States and Mexico here. The cacti, animals and plant life are all mirror images of each other. They share the same rugged desert landscape that provides spectacular views when the sun rises and sets each day. It's the same landscape that can prove to be unforgiving for those trying to walk through it during the hottest and coldest times of the year.

A towering steel brown fence is what separates the two neighboring countries in the middle of this vast, dry land, separating the state of Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora. The fence runs seven miles to the east of Nogales, AZ where a smaller fence made of steel rail road ties mixed with small patches of barbed wire fencing continue into the mountainous desert.

This is a portion of the fence that covers two thirds of the Mexico/U.S. border, across California, New Mexico, Texas and Arizona.

It's what many people call the first line of defense against a criminal element entering the United States. Others call it a giant waste of money.

"The wall took two and a half billion dollars that could have been used technologically. That could have been used for higher security, more personnel along the border, and diverted it." Says U.S. Congressman Raul Grijalva, whose district includes a portion of the Arizona border where the fence has been completed.

Grijalva says that the fence has only sent those seeking to get into the country out to areas where they are left to wander a treacherous desert. Many end up dying in the extreme conditions.

"It's a pathetic loss of life and anywhere else it would be a humanitarian crisis."

Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada says while the fence has helped lower crime in the city of Nogales, the majority of people moving into the country are heading north to find employment, not to commit crimes. He says we need to be more concerned and focused on those ruthless criminals who will do anything it takes to get across the border. He goes on to say, smugglers moving illegal drugs into the United States are going around the fence into rural areas where they can use the desert as a shield and occasionally use illegal immigrants as mules to move the drugs.

"They continuously manage to get their product across despite all that is being done here and it will continue," says Estrada, who also says that as long as there is a market in the United States for drugs, smugglers will bring them in.

That is exactly why Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu says more of the fence needs to be completed. A sign reading, "Travel Caution: Smuggling and Illegal Immigration may be encountered in this area," marks the entrance of what he calls a major drug trafficking route through the desert. What's remarkable about the route is that it's 80 miles north of the border fence, what could be a week-long hike in 110-degree heat.

"This is basically, literally, unfettered access for smugglers and illegals," said Sheriff Babeu showing us an area where an enormous amount of clothes, plastic water bottles and backpacks littered what he called a resting point. It's the exact spot where he says a suspected drug smuggler shot one of his deputies 3 months ago and the reason more money needs to be spent to complete the fence.

"How can we not budget for this here?" said Sheriff Babeu. "This is a huge public safety issue for our state and for our people".

Filed under: Border fence • Gary Tuchman • Ismael Estrada
July 19th, 2010
04:24 PM ET

Field Report: Mayday! The rig is on fire!

Ismael Estrada
AC360­° Producer

Program Note: See the full interview with the three fishermen, who were first on the scene of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, tonight on AC360° at 10 pm ET.

Last week we got an email from Shelly Milam from Milam and Milam law offices in Alabama. She said she had some video and photographs from clients who were out fishing in the Gulf of Mexico the night the Deepwater Horizon exploded.

I met with their attorneys and watched cell phone video the 3 men took that night. They were the first to respond to the scene as they were on a fishing trip and happened to be 17 miles away.

Scott Russell, Mark Mead and Brad Shivers agreed to give us their video and photographs and told us about the night that they say changed their lives forever. They describe a situation where they noticed a fireball in the distance and suddenly heard mayday calls coming in saying people were abandoning the rig.

They started heading to the Deepwater Horizon knowing that people were going to need help. They were there before the Coast Guard and felt intense heat coming from the fire on the rig. They saw people hanging off rafts asking them to go search for people who were missing. They handed them their medical kits and started searching the waters surrounding the rig looking for anyone in the water.

The three men met us and interviewed with Anderson about what they saw that night and the chaos they witnessed when they first arrived.

It's a night they say they'll never forget.

July 7th, 2010
06:11 PM ET

Field Report: The oysters are dead

Ismael Estrada
AC360­° Producer

Vlaho Mjehovich has been an oysterman in these Gulf waters for 21 years. His father was one here, as was his grandfather. It's what this family knows and loves.

Photojournalist Gil Delarosa and I went out with Mjehovich today to the waters where he has built his life. He started up his boat and took us out to his oyster beds in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana.

As we reached the beds, Mjehovich dropped his large oyster dredge in the water. What he pulled out was depressing.

Nearly every single oyster he pulled up was dead. Killed, he says, by the fresh water diversions from the Mississippi River meant to keep oil from coming into the marsh.

Oysters feed off salt water and can take several years to grow. With all the fresh water pumped into the marsh, oysters are starving, not getting the salt water they need to survive. With each dredge we pulled up, Mjehovich grew more and more angry.

"It's disgusting," Mjehovich said as he looked through piles of oysters searching for a single living one.

"This one is dead, another one dead, I feel sick to my stomach!"

He knows his life is going to change forever. The oysters he once relied on to make a living are dead and won't return for many years. In turn, his business is also dying and he now wonders what he will do next.

June 21st, 2010
05:42 PM ET

Reporter's Notebook: Our 5th week in the Gulf

Ismael Estrada
AC360­° Producer

I was able to get home to Chicago for a great Father's Day weekend, while many of my colleagues stayed in the Gulf to continue our coverage of the oil disaster. There is nothing better than sitting in bed, sipping coffee and listening to my three kids giggle with excitement as they run around the house gathering all the gifts they spent the week making for me. I cherish every single moment like that. As we were having a barbecue, many of our friends in the neighborhood came by and started to ask me about the Gulf and expressed how frustrated they were. Some were downright angry. I went back inside after a great day and a half, bathed the kids and packed my bag for another week in the Gulf.

It's amazing to think that we're heading into our 5th week in the area to cover this oil spill tragedy. Each week, we've met or have seen something that will stay with us forever. The first week we were down here, the oil had just started to wash ashore in Grand Isle. There were signs posted all over the region expressing anger and frustration with B.P.; people were trying to determine how this was going to affect their lives.

The one sight that will remain burned in my memory was the first time Anderson and I went into the marsh. My heart sank as I realized we were literally floating in a giant pool of oil. There were no sounds, no birds, no wildlife, just brown sludge and that horrible toxic smell.


June 1st, 2010
07:09 PM ET

Reporter's Notebook: Back in the Gulf

Ismael Estrada
AC360­° Producer

After a weekend at home, I packed my bag and headed back to New Orleans with Anderson to report about the oil spill. When I got to the airport yesterday the TSA agent checking my ID and ticket shook his head as he noticed where I was headed. "Those BP guys have no idea what they're doing down there do they?"

I walked toward the gate and grabbed a cup of coffee to keep me awake through my delay. People standing in line at the coffee stand were talking about how this was going to change what we know about the entire Gulf of Mexico.

I boarded my flight and the guy next to me wouldn't stop talking about it the entire trip. He was furious and had 10 ideas on how to get the gushing oil to stop. People behind us started to chime in as well.

When I got to the hotel the person checking me in also brought it up. She said she tried not to think about it all weekend so she could enjoy her family and relax, but said it's all anyone wanted to talk about since BP announced that their "top kill" efforts had failed.

Everyone knows this is a disaster and can't believe it's been so long and it has yet to be stopped. I was personally blown away last week when Anderson and I went to get a closer look at the oil in the marshes. There was oil everywhere. We were literally floating in a pile of brown sludge and I know there is so much more to come.

Anderson, Gary Tuchman, producer Joneil Adriano and I along with so many more CNNers will be here reporting all week on the newest efforts to stop the leak and the efforts to clean up the oil.

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