Ohio, the other border
4/9/2014, 8:58 a.m.
CLEVELAND, Ohio – 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 deportation machine.
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 Leonor, an undocumented woman who has lived in the U.S. for 20 years told me. 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 order.
The “talking points” circulating in the Washington bubble come undone in the face of the reality these families are living. 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 again. 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).
A short distance away, in Lorain, Ohio, other immigrants are living similar situations. There 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 their husbands. “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.