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Unsettled: A Small Business Owner Says Immigrants 'Fixed Up' Painesville

La Hispana's Pascual Rodriguez thinks that without immigrants, Painesville 'would be down.' (Nick Castele / ideastream)

This week we've been hearing voices from Painesville, in Lake County, talking about the topic of immigration.  This is part of our series Unsettled: Immigration in Ohio.

If you’re cruising up North State Street in Painesville, you’d probably miss La Hispana if you didn’t already know where it is. 

The convenience store takes up the ground floor of a tan brick building down a side street near railroad tracks. 

There’s a community bulletin board outside, and inside, a mix of essentials and extras common in the U.S. and Mexico. 

Pascual Rodriguez owns the shop.  He became a U.S. citizen some 20 years ago, having moved from Leon, Mexico, a city of origin for many of Painesville’s residents. 

He says since President Trump was elected, things have changed.

RODRIGUEZ: “People before, you see people walking in the street, but I don’t see that too much anymore. Everybody’s concerned about it…”

It’s not just on the street. Rodriguez says even legal residents are nervous about being stopped, and are considering moving away. 

RODRIGUEZ: “These new policies they want to put in place instead of help people it’s going to drive people out.  You don’t want to live there, you want to move out.  You don’t want to live where somebody doesn’t like you, stuff like that, you know.”

To Rodriguez, this is a problem.  Because he says immigrants have fueled Painesville for many years, occupying houses, replenishing the population.

RODRIGUEZ: “When I first got here, Painesville here, all the houses falling apart. So all these immigrants start coming here, and buy houses, start fixing everything up.  If it wasn’t for them, the city would be down. It’s like me, I came here and you know, I buy quite a few houses.  I mean, my wife and I, we work all the time.  If they’re trying to drive people away, you know, the city’s gonna come down, they’re not gonna get these taxes…”

Rodriguez says he wants there to be a pathway to citizenship—let people get a work permit and legally pay taxes.  He says it took him 10 years to go through the naturalization process.  He wants people who are in the country now to have that chance. 

RODRIGUEZ: “They should say, okay people they’ve been here more than five years they should come to the office and get a work permit.  If anybody doing a crime and stuff like that you can find out on the way.”

Rodriguez doesn’t think immigration raids and crackdowns will help the situation, or make communities safer.

RODRIGUEZ: “It’s kinda bad, because mostly when the INS come or they just got the good people, you know, somebody that’s robbing or doing drugs, those people are never in a house.  So ICE comes [they’re] just going to catch the good people, you know.”

And, Rodriguez says, Painesville needs the good people.

Find more parts in this series.

Tony Ganzer has reported from Phoenix to Cairo, and was the host of 90.3's "All Things Considered." He was previously a correspondent with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, covering issues like Swiss banks, Parliament, and refugees. He earned an M.A. in International Relations (University of Leicester); and a B.Sc. in Journalism (University of Idaho.) He speaks German, and a bit of French.