In another thread, Steve Suffet gave a nice summary of his research on the song. Since it's the only message in that thread about that particular song, I'm going to paste a copy here. I don't have the Joe Klein biography he refers to, and I'm not shure which Leventhal book he's talking about Leventhal edited a collection of Woody's writings called Pastures of Plenty, but that book makes only passing mention of "Deportee."
Thread #29549 Message #374302
Posted By: Suffet
Thread Name: El Do Re Mi
Subject: RE: El Do Re Mi
By the way, if you don't know the story of "Deportees," here is a brief (?) summary courtesy of information I gleaned from Joe Offer, Joe Klein, and Harold Leventhal.
On January 28, 1948, a chartered airplane crashed in Los Gatos Canyon, about 20 miles west of Coalinga, California. All aboard perished, including the crew, several immigration agents, and 28 Mexican farmworkers who were in the process of being deported. Woody Guthrie claimed that he heard a radio broadcast report of the crash in which someone stated that the 28 Mexicans were "just deportees" and did not give their names when the names of the crew and agents were announced. In response, Woody wrote the song that he called variously "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos," "Deportees," and "Goodbye to My Juan." Woody performed the song as at least one of the Peoples' Artists hoots in New York, but his original tune was almost a flat monotone and it (the tune) was not well received.
About 10 years later, a young folk singer named Martin Hoffman wrote a new and hauntingly beautiful tune to go with Woody's lyrics. Cisco Houston, Woody's old sidekick, soon recorded "Deportees" for Vanguard using Hoffman's tune. So did Judy Collins, and the song quickly became an American folk standard.
By that time, however, Woody was seriously ill with Huntington's disease, and he was confined to a mental hospital. It is doubtful that he ever sang the Hoffman tune himself, but it is pretty well established that others sang it to him.