Ohio, the other border

Maribel Hastings, America’s Voice | 4/9/2014, 8:58 a.m.

“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 in peace.”

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.