Ohio, the border up
By Maribel Hastings, America’s Voice
Every Tuesday night in Painesville, Ohio, immigrants with a
common denominator meet at a converted church: they are
protagonists or collateral damage in the government’s
The picture blows the water out of the argument that the
deportations are focused on criminals or recent border crossers
without ties to the United States, that they aren’t separating
families. Here the smokescreen to refute the record numbers of
deportations or justify them loses all meaning.
To talk with many of them, their comments reflect the feelings
of the community: they don’t think that legislative immigration
reform is possible for now and they are hopeful that President
Barack Obama will relieve them, ironically, from the deportation
policies of his own administration.
It goes without saying that Republicans are the ones who are
blocking reform in Congress. They don’t seem to expect anything
from them and when they’re asked to name who is responsible for
their uncertain state of being, they don’t name any Republican,
only Obama. The “reason is simple,” said Leonor, an
undocumented woman who has lived in the U.S. for 20 years. She
has four U.S. citizen children, and her husband was deported
three years ago, after 24 years living in Ohio, the place where
he graduated high school.
“The Republicans didn’t promise immigration reform. Obama did.
Since he took office I put all my faith in him. I said, ‘With
him, nothing bad will happen to us.’ And when the person who
you think is going to help you the most actually disappoints you
it hurts even more,” Leonor said. She also has a deportation
The “talking points” circulating in the Washington DC bubble
come undone in the face of the reality these families are
Whole families comprised of undocumented people, permanent
residents, and citizens fill the space where the organization
HOLA of Painesville assists people who have lost a loved one
to deportation or are fighting their own case or that of others.
The weekly packed reunion is like a type of group therapy that
provides a catharsis and even a place where one can joke about
the tragedy just to make things a little lighter. They
congratulate Alfredo Ramos for being with them once
Ramos, an immigrant who has lived in Ohio for 24 years without a
criminal record and with two citizen children, was placed into
deportation proceedings after being detained when he was a
passenger in a car. He was accused of “illegal re-entry” for
returning after deportation to be with his family. The federal
prosecution of Alfredo continues, despite the fact that he was
given a temporary stay (and an ankle bracelet).
short distance away, in Lorain, other immigrants are living
similar situations. There is a chapter of HOLA and another
community support organization, El Centro, helps them.
In Sacred Heart Chapel, in Lorain, I talk to six women,
mothers, who are fighting their own deportations or that of
“We couldn’t even go to the park in peace because the Border
Patrol was there . . . Thanks to Cel we are less worried,” says
María, who is facing a deportation order, referring to the
Puerto Rican Celestino Rivera. Rivera is the Police
Chief of the city of Lorain, and his department does not report
undocumented people to immigration authorities.
“It’s gotten better in Lorain, but when we leave the area we’re
afraid of running into the Border Patrol anywhere else,” adds
Claudia, an undocumented immigrant who has lived in Ohio for 15
years and has four U.S. citizen children was well as a husband
in deportation proceedings.
When you think of the Border Patrol, Lorain or Painesville do
not come to mind. But the deportations here have come from
detentions of immigrants—some of whom have lived here for more
than two decades—in small towns and cities between two Border
Patrol stations in Port Clinton, Ohio and Erie, Pennsylvania.
The primary justification for being here is the border with
Canada. The reality in these parts is that the Border Patrol
operates as an interior enforcement agency (up to 100 miles from
the border) and benefits from collaborations with local police
departments who turn in immigrants detained for minor traffic
violations or any other excuse that lets them check documents.
“The real challenge is that in Ohio we have so many small
police departments and each one has its own policy. They don’t
understand immigration law. They’re detaining people on their
way to work or the grocery store. They stop and question
Hispanics and it doesn’t matter if they are drivers or
passengers, they immediately call the Border Patrol,” said
Veronica Dahlberg, Executive Director of HOLA.
The interviews in Lorain and Painesville tell the same story.
The most recent arrival to Ohio has been living here for 8
years, while the ones with the longest time here had lived in
Ohio for 24 years.
Their backgrounds are similar: almost all come from Guanajuato,
México, and they come to work in the nurseries, in construction,
in factories, or on farms. They have citizen children and
established lives. They have never asked for help from the
government, although ironically a detention and eventual
deportation would force these families to do so in order to
support their US born children when a breadwinner is deported,
languishing in a detention center, or can’t work.
“I don’t have any criminal record here, nothing at all, yet I
was in a detention center for five months. I worked for 12
years in a factory supervising 40 people. I made a good living;
I paid taxes. After this, our family’s emergency fund is
completely gone and we needed to ask for food stamps to feed our
children, something I never had to do when I was working,” said
another Painesville immigrant facing deportation.
“The president said he wasn’t going to separate families. We
didn’t ask him to stop all deportations because we know that
there are criminals who should be deported. But the rest of us
just came here to work and not to be a burden but a help for
this country,” he said. His message to Obama: “Listen to
all of these cases and leave those of us who came here to work
Their deportation stories are also similar: they were
detained while driving to work or the grocery store.
The message they are sending is similar as well: stop family
separations and give them work permits if Congress is not going
to pass immigration reform now.
The potential political consequences of this crisis should not
fall on deaf ears for either political party. Their children
are citizens—some of them vote already, and others will soon.
They have family members who are voters, who have seen a
Republican Party demonize immigrants and block immigration
reform, as well as a Democratic administration deporting them,
trying to deport them, but saying that they can’t help them.
“I have relatives who are voters and they are disappointed
because they think the President only used Latinos to win in
2008 and again in 2012, and he’ll leave office and won’t do
anything,” said Edith, an undocumented woman living in Ohio for
almost two decades.
Guadalupe, an undocumented woman who has lived in Ohio for 19
years, also has family members who are voters. “They are
disappointed. They ask ‘if the next Democratic candidate comes
and says the same and I give him my vote and the same thing
happens, well, it’s better that I don’t give them my vote
anymore’ . . . the Latino community will feel like they might as
well not vote if the [candidates] just make promises and don’t
Editor’s Note: Maribel Hastings is a senior advisor at