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Latino groups, migrant supporters respond, mobilize to ICE raid near Cedar Point  

 

By Kevin Milliken, La Prensa Correspondent

 

SANDUSKY, ERIE COUNTY, OHIO, June 7, 2018: Latinos and migrant-support groups and individuals scrambled this past week in the wake of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid on a Sandusky, Ohio-area garden and landscaping company near world-famous amusement park Cedar Point—114 people were taken into custody on alleged immigration, identity theft, and tax evasion violations.

Guisselle Mendoza-McDonald and
Baldemar Velásquez

 

A coalition of Toledo, Lorain, Norwalk, and Painesville-based community groups quickly gathered to condemn the raid and mobilize its collective forces, starting with a press conference held in the lobby of One Government Center in downtown Toledo on Thursday, June 7, 2018, at 10:00AM. It was co-organized by the Toledo Immigrant Alliance and Rapid Response Network.

 

What has particularly angered the various communities is the swift and harsh separation of young children from their parents, a traumatic and fearful experience for kids who may have been left in the care of babysitters or other relatives at the time of the ICE raids [ICE raided 2 locations]. Many of the children are U.S. citizens.

 

 

IN TOLEDO

 

The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc. (ABLE), Adelante, Inc., Welcome Toledo Lucas County Initiative (TLC), and other community-based groups began organizing a collection of necessities for children whose parents were taken to detention centers, as well as meeting with families to ensure they have proper legal representation during what may be expedited deportation proceedings.

 

“These actions by ICE are offensive to the American principles of democracy and values, which emphasize families and children,” said Jesús Salas, ABLE senior attorney, who handles legal issues involving immigration and regularly represents migrant workers. “There are real-life effects to these actions taken by ICE.”

 

“This is about human beings and who we are as a nation and how we treat every resident within the boundaries of this country,” said Baldemar Velásquez, FLOC founder and president, while calling the raid “unconscionable” and questioning the “scare tactics” used by federal agents.

 

“It says in the pledge of allegiance, ‘freedom and justice for all’. Well, maybe it means to say freedom and justice for some,” expressed FLOC’s Velásquez, while raising concerns about due process for the detainees. “You’re not supposed to be guilty until found guilty. They have a right to appeal before an immigration judge. But a lot of times, their arms are twisted and they are forced to sign voluntary departures. This is not due process. That’s intimidation; those are terror tactics, scare tactics.”

 

“It doesn’t matter where you stand on this immigration debate. It matters most who we are as human beings, as individuals, and how we treat our neighbor,” continued FLOC’s Velásquez. “It is time to impose some humanity into this situation and try to respond to the needs of these families.”

 

 “Will we walk-the-talk of faith-filled people and, consequently, actively address the virulent injustice and clear absence of respect and compassion toward our sisters and brothers who doggedly come to our border from tyranny and destitute living conditions, seeking only a humane life for themselves and their children?” queried Fr. Tony Gallagher, a retired Catholic priest.

 

We need to put ourselves in their shoes, to understand their humanity, to hear their stories of hope in our country. The dividing of families cannot be tolerated by any person of faith,” said Fr. Gallagher to huge applause. “We need to be honest and purposeful about the purpose of the iconic phrase ‘Welcome’ at the base of the Statue of Liberty.”

 

“We as a coalition of community members condemn the separation of families, including of U.S. born children,” said Guisselle Mendoza-McDonald, president of the Latino Alliance of Northwest Ohio, Inc. and spokesperson for Welcome Toledo Lucas County Initiative (TLC). “This current policy is heartless and must end immediately. It’s wrong on so many levels. It’s inhumane and un-American.”

 

According to Ms. Mendoza-McDonald, more than 200 children have been harshly affected by the 6-5 ICE raid and many of the children are US citizens.

 

ICE officials have refused to release details of the military-styled raid or otherwise comment, which took place in the early morning hours on Tuesday, June 5, by about 200 heavily-armed federal agents. Photos and eyewitness accounts showed adults and children alike handcuffed with plastic zip ties and being led away to waiting vehicles.

 

U.S.-born children were later released “for humanitarian reasons,” after being detained for more than 12 hours.

 

A post on the HOLA Ohio Facebook page recounted stories told by people present at the Corso’s Flower and Garden Center raid of a man “dressed in civilian clothes carrying three boxes of donuts and announcing a company meeting.”

 

Once the charade drew employees toward him to listen, “dozens of agents moved in shouting orders” for U.S. citizens to line on one side and those ‘not born in the U.S.’ to line up on the other. According to their account, many were loaded onto buses and taken to the Sandusky Border Patrol station, including some U.S.-born high school students.

 

 

HOLA OHIO

 

The HOLA Ohio Facebook post reported federal agents were armed with AR-15 assault-style rifles, with aerial surveillance. HOLA is based in Ashtabula, Ohio and directed by Veronica Isabel Dahlberg.  Visit:  www.holatoday.org 

 

While the raids occurred at the agricultural-based businesses in Sandusky, Ohio and Castalia, Ohio, most of the families affected live in the Norwalk area, according to HOLA Ohio. Most are Mexican-born migrant workers. HOLA Ohio is working with the Mexican Consulate based in Detroit to identify as many people as possible and to locate individuals, help their families, and mobilize legal aid efforts.

 

Those being detained were transferred a tremendous distance—females to a federal detention center in Michigan, males to a private prison near Youngstown, according to the ACLU of Ohio.

 

HOLA Ohio mobilized a Sunday afternoon collection of diapers and store gift cards at St. Paul Catholic Church in Norwalk. A Facebook post urged people to “ensure these kids get the necessities they deserve in their time of such needless trauma.”  FLOC assisted in this assistance since news of the raid.

 

Adelante, Inc. and the Latino Alliance of Northwest Ohio, Inc. are also organizing a community-wide collection of diapers, wipes, food, clothes, shoes, and other children’s necessities at Walbridge Park in Toledo from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, June 9th.

 

The aptly named “Children Left Behind Drive” publicized on Facebook, garnered at least a truckload of donations to be taken to families gathered in the Norwalk area by Pathways, a social service group based in Liberty Center, Ohio that works with migrant farmworkers.

 

El CENTRO OF LORAIN

 

El Centro de Servicios Sociales, Inc., based in Lorain, Ohio, is organizing similar relief efforts on behalf of children whose parents were arrested. El Centro hosted a press conference in the afternoon on June 7th.

 

The Lorain conference was hosted by its director, Victor Leandry, who explained the difficult circumstances facing those arrested and their families; he advised that El Centro were assisting relief efforts through El Centro’s caseworker Anabel Barrón and supervisor Thelma Cruz.



José Mendiola

 

Additional press comments and emotional pleas were made by Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera, José Mendiola (president of LOIRA, Lorain Ohio Immigrant Rights Association), Sister Cathy McConnell, HM (Sacred Heart Chapel), Janet Garrett (candidate for Ohio’s 4th Congressional District), Lorain County Commissioner Matt Lundy, and Lorain Councilman Angel Arróyo.

 

Councilman Arróyo termed the seizures and separations of families “unjust” and “immoral.”

 

Lorain Police Chief Rivera reviewed a partial history of the immigration policies in the United States after President Ronald Reagan granted amnesty to over 3 million undocumented immigrants in 1986 and noted that immigration laws were not enforced until after Sept. 11, 2001. But jobs that nobody else wanted attracted migrants who had difficulty obtaining work in their counties of origin because of the creation of NAFTA.  

 

 

 

RACIAL PROFILING

 

FLOC, ABLE, and other immigrant rights groups and individuals sued the U.S. Border Patrol’s Sandusky post in federal court in Toledo several years ago, alleging racial profiling of migrant farmworkers in small rural communities across northern Ohio. A federal judge last year found no wrongdoing on the part of federal agents in that case.

 

“We still see concerns of ethnic profiling affecting our immigrant communities,” said Eugenio Mollo, ABLE managing attorney, who spoke at Toledo’s press conference. “We have recently filed additional lawsuits against officers of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Those cases remain pending. We want to hear more of those stories and we encourage people who think they have been ethnically profiled to call our office and we’ll do our best to investigate the concerns.”

 

ABLE has set up a “hotline” at 419.871.8113.

 

Longer term, FLOC and ABLE plan to conduct “know your rights” presentations to the “survivor families” of those detained, as well as other migrant farmworkers who may still be living in Ohio. FLOC intends to address what its leader called “exploitation” and “abuses in the workplace” that are “endemic to the agricultural industry” in Ohio and elsewhere.

 

“People who are oppressed need to organize to find a collective resistance, a collective way to respond to the attacks on their humanity,” said FLOC’s Velásquez. “We’ve known about abuses in that area for some time, so an incident like this was long in the making. I think the way it was conducted was a publicity stunt and pandering to instruments in our country. The problems go deeper than the current crisis we’re facing right now.”

 

While the names of those detained and any charges they face have not been released, an ICE spokesman has termed the investigation as one centered around possible tax evasion and identity theft. The investigation began with the arrest of a “document broker” last fall, according to ICE. Some of those arrested may have used fake documents and the Social Security numbers of dead people to gain employment.

 

“None of those people who worked in that greenhouse were MS 13, nor were they criminals,” said FLOC’s Velásquez. “They were hard-working people doing jobs other Americans don’t want to do. Those are the people we hire in this country to do those jobs that make our flourishing economy. You talk to any farmer in Ohio or anywhere in the country and they’re saying they need these workers to come to the rural areas to do these back-breaking jobs that other Americans cannot and will not do.”

 

 

EMPLOYER’S RESPONSE

 

Corso’s Flower and Garden Center issued a statement on its company website Wednesday, stating the family-owned business “prides itself on being a good corporate citizen,” which “does right by the law.” The company stated it “ensures that all employer taxes are properly paid.”

 

“Corso’s strives to comply with U.S. employment laws and therefore asks its employees and prospective employees for honest and legitimate identification and documentation,” the statement read. “If mistakes were made or if anyone used false, fraudulent, or otherwise disingenuous identification documents or other documents to secure employment at Corso’s, the company was not aware of those things.”

 

The landscaping and wholesale plant dealer reopened its operations the day after the raid.

 

The Erie County raid also drew the ire of some of Ohio’s congressional delegation, particularly Democrats. Many took shots at Donald Trump’s new policy of cracking down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants, after publicly stating immigration enforcement efforts would focus on violent criminals and gang members. But the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Northern Ohio recently announced it would hire additional staff focused on increasing immigration enforcement. The ACLU, in a statement released Friday, pointed out the DOJ [Dept. of Justice] disbanded its civil rights department last year under AG Jeff Sessions.

 

 

REP. KAPTUR AND SEN. BROWN

 

US Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-9th District), whose district covers northern Ohio from Toledo to western Cleveland suburbs, issued a statement encouraging “transparency from ICE officials as this process unfolds.”

 

“In this tense environment created by an administration intent on dividing us, we want to make sure everything about this action is above board and that individuals are being treated with dignity and respect,” said Rep. Kaptur. “I know many Ohioans are upset and alarmed by these actions by the government and I share their concern.”

 

US Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) was blunter, calling the raids and separation of families “immoral” and “dead wrong” in a conference call with reporters.

 

“My first concern is the children who were separated from their families during the raid,” he said. “We’re seeing too many cases of children separated from families, small children. ICE agents don’t know where some of the children are.”

 

Both Rep. Kaptur and Sen. Brown stated their offices are in contact with federal immigration authorities, trying to work through situations on behalf of the families affected by the ICE raid.

 

Sen. Brown, who is running for re-election this November, renewed a call for a “bi-partisan solution” to the country’s immigration situation.

 

“This is not what we as a country stand for,” said Sen. Brown. “We will be fighting on this.”

 

 

ACLU RESPONSE

 

The ACLU of Ohio on Friday sent letters to Ohio’s congressional delegation, urging immediate action to prevent the expedited deportations of the farmworkers detailed in Tuesday’s ICE raid.

 

“We urge Ohio senators and representatives to take immediate action and ensure that no one is deported without access to an attorney and full due process in an immigration court,” said ACLU of Ohio Senior Policy Director Mike Brickner. “We have an opportunity to right this horrible wrong, but we must take immediate action. The events on June 5 are not irreparable, and we have the opportunity to alleviate the tremendous suffering of our Ohio neighbors, by ensuring full due process under the law.”

 

The ACLU warned those expedited deportations “could happen in a matter of days.” The civil rights group stated there has been a trend to “fast-track” and “group-track” such deportations.

 

“The federal government inserted itself into a small Ohio community instilling fear, panic, and chaos that will have long lasting effects on our immigrant neighbors, family members, and friends. We must not let this happen unchallenged and urge our elected officials to stand up to ICE and stop the expedited deportation of Ohio residents,” said Brickner.

Many of the children are citizens of the United States of America.

Rico de La Prensa contributed to this report.
 

 


 

Copyright © 1989 to 2018 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 06/12/18 21:51:42 -0700.

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