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Radio Special | Unsettled: Immigration In Ohio

Lake County Courthouse (Tony Ganzer / ideastream)

Immigrants in search of the American dream come in many forms, but the goal is often the same: more opportunity, more security, more stability.  Here’s how one man in the U.S. on a work permit from Mexico puts it:

Father in the U.S. on a work permit: “It's very hard because there, there aren't as many opportunities as there are here. I've been coming to this country to work for 23 years. I work very hard so that my daughter and son can get a good education, because here, this country has so many job and other opportunities, and in Mexico, there aren't these opportunities. That's why we came here, to work for a better future for our children, and to take care of the family that we have there [in Mexico].”

Those things are probably valued by more than just the immigrants in a town like this, Painesville, Ohio…in Lake County.  But nearly a quarter of Painesville’s population does identify as Latino or Hispanic, and many have roots in just one part of Mexico. 

So the perspectives we find here might give us a window into how immigration policy, and the immigration debate, is playing out.

Businesses like La Hispana, a market, have opened in Painesville. [Nick Castele / ideastream]

I’m cruising up North State Street in Painesville, and if I didn’t know where I was going, I’d probably miss  La Hispana.  There it is on the left.

This 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.

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

Painesville may be a little unique in Northeast Ohio for how many residents identify as Latino, or Hispanic, and how many come from one part of Mexico.  But in some ways this is just part of a greater migration. 

Pablo Mitchell is a Professor of History and Comparative American Studies at Oberlin College.

MITCHELL: “In the past we’ve often tended to think of big cities, and we’ll think of Miami for Cubans; we’ll think of New York for Dominicans, Puerto Ricans; we’ll think of L.A., San Antonio, El Paso, for Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.  We’re starting to see more and more folks in rural areas, and in some of these smaller areas. And this is really something that we want to be able to be in a context of a longer history of immigration. I was talking with folks from Reading, Pennsylvania, which you might not necessarily think is one of the important places for new Latino immigration. Reading, Pennsylvania is 75% Latino now. And so this is something we’re seeing all around the country, not only in the Northeast, Midwest, but also the American South.”

GANZER: “So Painesville according to Census numbers in 2015 was about a quarter Hispanic or Latino. What do we know about that population, and how it came to be in Painesville?”

MITCHELL: “The folks coming to Painesville are coming as largely working-class folks who are drawn to jobs.  One of the traditional paths from folks to come to the Midwest, especially Mexican-American folks, has been to come through Texas first. So in the early part of the 20 th Century you’d really start to see folks who are following immigration patterns, and following basically agriculture coming up from Texas. So an awful lot of second, and third, and fourth generation Mexican-Americans in Toledo, in Northeast Ohio, have family in Texas.  So that path has been a traditional one, and folks have been following that one for a long time.  So while in some ways the Painesville example is new, in another way it’s not new at all and it’s at least a hundred years old of Latinos being in Northeast Ohio.”

GANZER: “Painesville at one time, and still today to a large degree, was known for its nurseries. Is that often the trend that you see, that there is some kind of specialized industry, or availability of jobs, that that attracts these immigrants?”

MITCHELL: “Absolutely, they’ll be drawn to particular industries, and in part because of their particular skills. So these are people with skills in particular areas that are then drawn to this, and know about these kinds of jobs.  One of the special parts of the Midwest in terms of Latinos, is it’s a combination of field and factory.  So there were Mexicans drawn to Lorain, Ohio, near by us in Cleveland, in the 1920s to work in the steel mills in Lorain. Mexicans were drawn to Chicago and Detroit to work in factories.  In addition, Mexicans came for 100 years or so to work in the fields, to work in fruit fields, and then also to work in places like nurseries, so it’s very much part of a longer tradition.”

GANZER: “And the Cleveland-area, as I understand it, is also pretty diverse within the Hispanic/Latino community, that you’ll have Puerto Ricans, you’ll have Mexican immigrants, for example—what does that do, do you think, for understanding issues like immigration, when we’re talking about South or Central American immigration north to the U.S., or issues of Puerto Rico? Is there more nuance? Is it tougher to get into those debates with any sort of depth?”

MITCHELL: “There are certainly some differences, and a major one is in terms of citizenship. So Puerto Ricans are then U.S. citizens by birth.  And those citizenship questions are not as acute for Puerto Ricans as they would be for Mexicans. I think there are also some real spaces of alliance. And I think that’s one of the areas that I think tends to be discounted in attacks on immigrants, or attacks on Mexican immigrants, that I think the broader Latino community, and I guess I’ll speak generally here, tends to see an attack on immigrants and on Mexican immigrants as an attack on Latinos and Latinas. And I think there’s a real sense that we’re all immigrants in one way or another. Some of us are fortunate to have American citizenship and have some of those rights, and others do not. But I think there is a sense of kind of a common, that we’re all in this together.”

GANZER: “Some of the people with whom I shared this reporting were surprised that issues of immigration were playing out in a way in Ohio.  Other people are deep in it, and they knew some of the characters we spoke to, small business owners in Painesville, for example. Is there anything to explain this divide that some people are deep in it, and others don’t even realize what Ohio’s experiencing now?”

MITCHELL: “I think there is, and I think that folks who have experience working with immigrants tend to be supportive of those immigrants that they know. Some people they don’t like, just like some people I don’t like who are my neighbors and so on, and some of them they do like. And I think as you start to see the folks who come into closer contact with folks in the immigrant community, I think there’s a respect for those folks, I think there’s a respect for the hard-working qualities, that these are folks who are coming here working extraordinarily hard trying to support their children, and also very vulnerable and scared a lot of the time. On a more even crass, capitalist, monetary level, these are folks who are really supporting economies.  So in Northeast Ohio we are desperate to bring people into Northeast Ohio, and to draw them in. These are people who are coming to Northeast Ohio, working hard, paying taxes—certainly paying taxes on the food that they buy, and the gasoline that they buy, and so on.  So these are people who are really helping these small economies, that otherwise may be kind of struggling.”

Painesville City Hall (Nick Castele / ideastream)

GANZER: I’m outside Painesville’s city hall, a deep red brick building with four stately white columns before it.  It’s metal cupola reflects surroundings in its bronze sheen.  This summer, dozens of people packed into this building each night to discuss a policing policy 413.  Ideastream’s Nick Castele visited some of those meetings, and with me where Mentor Street meets Liberty Street in Painesville.

Nick you learned a lot about policy 413…how’s it fit into our discussion on immigration in Ohio?

CASTELE: Policy 413 says police will alert Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, if a person suspected of being in the country illegally is charged with certain crimes. Those include violent or drug offenses, DUIs or gang affiliation. And this was a big topic at Painesville City Council meetings.

MIGUEL ECHEVERRIA: “I just want you to think it twice. We want our police to be strong, but not to be an immigration officers, to pull anybody and arrest them and try to report them.”

CASTELE: Miguel Echeverria runs an asphalt company in Painesville, and testified before council in June. Like many who spoke against the policy, Echeverria defended immigrants’ presence in the city.

MIGUEL ECHEVARRIA: “We want to do good for everybody. We are not here to take anybody’s jobs, to do any bad thing for our community in Painesville or anywhere else.”

CASTELE: As of June this year, one person had been reported to ICE under the policy, according to City Manager Monica Irelan. She did not say what charges that person faced, but read a statement at the meeting defending the policy.

MONICA IRELAN: “The perception of this policy has caused people to believe it is something that it is not. This is a post-arrest procedure.”

CASTELE: Under policy 413, police can take limited English proficiency into account when determining reasonable suspicion that someone is in the country unlawfully.

MONICA IRELAN: “In fact, the policy states while the lack of English proficiency may be considered, it should not be the sole factor in establishing reasonable suspicion.”

Painesville council members and city manager Monica Irelan, second from left, listen at a recent meeting. [Nick Castele / ideastream]

CASTELE: Other factors include admitting to being undocumented, or having papers suspected of being forged. Police may also include additional factors based on their experience. About a quarter of Painesville’s population is Hispanic or Latino, and an estimated 20 percent of residents over the age of 5 speak Spanish at home. Opponents of the policy, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, say the language provision encourages profiling. One councilman, Jim Fodor, said he had concerns about it, too. 

JIM FODOR: “And if that’s the red flag, if there is something we can do, we are not the only community in this situation…so maybe we need to reach out to our other communities.”

CASTELE: Nationwide, ICE says there were 38 percent more immigration arrests in President Trump’s first hundred days than in the same period last year. An executive order by the president expanded the number of people considered a priority for deportation. The city manager says Painesville is not a part of a federal program for cooperating with ICE known as 287(g). But in 2008, council passed a resolution saying the city would assist authorities in enforcing immigration law. A former councilman who supported that measure, Hal G. Werner, testified at a council meeting this year.

HAL WERNER: “It’s called safety. It’s called the laws we need to adhere to for a civilized country, not a third world country. And when it pertains to this, it doesn’t say of any nationality of any kind. We have a horrible, dangerous world out there.”

CASTELE: In May, the Ohio ACLU sent the police chief a letter urging him to abandon policy 413. The chief declined an interview request for this story. Among Painesville’s immigrant community, there’s fear that a traffic stop could lead to arrest and deportation by ICE.

JOSE RAMON: “Instead of driving their cars, they’re walking or they’re just riding bikes.”

CASTELE: Jose Ramon says he received protected status under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The executive order shielded from deportation those undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children. He says his parents have stopped driving themselves to work, and instead get a ride from a friend with a driver’s license.

JOSE RAMON: “That’s the reality right now here in Painesville. A lot of people think they’re going to get stopped for no reason, or they’re going to ask them for their IDs and stuff.”

CASTELE: After public comment stretched for hours over the course of several council meetings, city manager Monica Irelan announced a task force on policy 413. In a statement announcing the group, Irelan said, “This policy is still under review. It is evolving and we are all open to feedback.”

GANZER: We’re going to hear a little more from Jose Ramon over the next few moments, and we’ll also hear from Painesville City Councilman Michael DeLeone.  Their perspectives help illustrate how perceptions of policy 413 or the climate of the immigration debate can differ wildly in this city, just like all over our country.

DeLeone first says he doesn’t think policy 413 is aimed at Painesville’s Hispanic residents.

Michael DeLeone: “I know that there’s been some thoughts that this targets, or this is racial profiling. But we have more than Latino immigrants in our community, and this policy wasn’t intended to strike at any one nationality.  It was intended across the boards of these are the regulations from the feds, and this is what they asked us to do, and we’re gonna do it.”

Ganzer: “Some of the people we’ve talked to said since President Trump has been campaigning and then won office, that they have seen a change in how free people feel to even walk down the street, or congregate in certain ways.  Have you seen a shift in how the community is responding to itself, even, or divisions within the community?”

Michael DeLeone: “I’ve seen a shift in the community, but I saw that shift before the presidential election results.  That shift basically on what you believe—we used to be able to discuss issues, we used to be able to have rational, reasonable discussions, and we might not agree, but that doesn’t mean we’re not friends.  But I’ve seen the diminishing of that in our society that if you’re on the other side from the people you’re speaking with, you’re wrong.”

Painesville Councilman Michael DeLeone says the city wants to be welcoming to law-abiding citizens. (Nick Castele / ideastream)

Ganzer: For Jose Ramon, here under the Obama-era DACA program, the shift he saw in the community was connected somehow to President Trump’s election. 

Ramon: “Yes, I’ve seen a huge difference.  I heard a lot of stories that people were getting stopped by the police, asking for documentation.  They’re treating bad, I think that’s not fair for them.”

Ganzer: “And you, yourself, have you face increased, I don’t know, pressure around town, or do you feel nervous more than you did before?”

Ramon: “Yes, I feel really nervous when I go to the store. Like two weeks ago, there was two ladies that came up to me. They’re like, ‘Are you Hispanic? Why are you here for?’ I tell them that I was here to have a better life. And they’re asking me, ‘why, don’t come to bother our country.’  And I started telling them I’m not bothering you guys.”

Ganzer: “This just happened in a store?”

Ramon: “Yes, that was two weeks ago already.”

Ganzer: “You’re shopping in a store and somebody just randomly walks up to you and starts saying these things?”

Ramon: “Yes, they were like, ‘what are you doing here? Why are you in this country like that? Are you illegal to the country?’  I told them I had the permission—I didn’t give them too much details—but I told them I have the DACA. I don’t know why they asked to give them more information, I told them ‘you’re not the right person to be asking me those questions’ and I just walked away.”

Ganzer: “Had that ever happened to you before?”

Ramon: “No. That was the first time I heard from someone.  I think because all this stuff started going around since Trump came to president now.”

Ganzer: In the view of Ramon, and others I spoke to, including some facing possible deportation, there’s a perception that a new policy in Painesville, immigration arrests being up 38% at the beginning of President Trumps tenure, many things contribute to a feeling of being unwelcome in the community.

Painesville Councilman Michael DeLeone says that’s a perception issue:

Michael DeLeone: “…and we’re constantly fighting the perception.  In fact, 5 ½ years ago we would’ve been having this discussion, it would’ve been a talk about the discussion of the opposite.  We were being perceived as a sanctuary city.  And that was a big deal.  I pulled out the 2008 resolution back then: how can you call us a sanctuary city, we have this document right here that says we aren’t.  And again, I live and breathe the letter of that document.”

Ganzer: “I think it was 2007 when there were a number of ICE raids in Painesville.  Some people think that this is just another wave of that, that we’re back to that situation or worse.  From your perspective, do you believe that’s where we are?”

Michael DeLeone: “I don’t believe that’s where we are.  We have to recognize that legal immigrants are a valued part of our community.  Are there illegal immigrants here? Yes. Now for those illegal immigrants that aren’t committing any crimes, this policy will never affect them.”

Ganzer: “Something that a number of people we spoke to said, was that Painesville without its immigrant community would be a lot of empty houses, some businesses would not have been formed—is there any concern from the city level that even if it’s a perception that things are less welcoming than they were before that that could hurt both the bottom line, but also the culture you’ve created here?”

Michael DeLeone: “My perspective has always been that we want to be welcoming to law-abiding citizens.  We want to be welcoming to law-abiding people.  Like many cities across the nation we’re struggling, we’ve always been struggling, we need to create economic development.  There’s always a concern from my perspective when there is a false perception out there, which is why I believe education is so important and getting the message out of this is what is.  When everyone says policy 413 did all these things, it’s only been responsible in six months for one person being reported to ICE.  So I don’t really think it’s had the impact that people are fearing, and I think once it gets a track record out under it, people will start to see, and once that track record develops it’s our job as council-people to get out there and spread the word.”

Ganzer: Some residents here in Painesville are not thinking about the longer-term, to see how policies play-out. 

Some are considering moving back to Mexico, or to another state. 

But resident Jose Ramon says the attention that would bring, has left some people even too scared to move.

Then-candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign stop in Cleveland in March 2016. [Nick Castele / ideastream]

Ganzer: We’re in Painesville, in Lake County, to hear varied perspectives on how the immigration debate is playing out in a city with nearly a quarter of its population identifying as Hispanic or Latino.

Since President Donald Trump took office, federal immigration authorities have stepped up enforcement.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement said arrests were up 38% in the first months of the Trump administration. 

And the government and attorneys who defend people in such cases, say that uptick has affected Ohio, too.

And ICE says no one here illegally is exempt from possible deportation.  Ideastream’s Nick Castele, take it from here…

CASTELE: For most of her life, Susanna has lived here in Lake County, Ohio. But she was born in Mexico. Her father brought her to the United States when she was one year old. A few years ago, she signed up for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. It grants protected status to people who came to the country undocumented as children. I spoke with her earlier this summer.

SUSANNA: “It opens up so many doors for you. Especially since I’m in high school, and I always wanted to go to college, and I thought it would be great, because it allows me to go to college, and be able to drive.”

CASTELE: This year, the Trump administration discontinued a companion program for parents that was never implemented. DACA, for now, will stay. But officials say they have not made a final ruling. Susanna graduated from high school this year and plans to start college in the fall. If the government did choose to deport her, she says she’d probably stay with her grandmother in her family’s hometown of Léon, Mexico.

SUSANNA: “It would be difficult to start in a new country. Going to school, I probably wouldn’t be able to go to school. Probably start working.”

CASTELE: Since the election, her mother says, the family has been uncertain about the future.

MOTHER: “Nos sentimos preocupados, asustados, porque…”

SUSANNA: “She says she’s also worried and fearful of what’s going to happen with our new president, and what his decisions are going to be in the near future.”

CASTELE: President Trump signed an executive order in January laying out his priorities for arrest and deportation. The acting director of ICE, Thomas D. Homan, testified before a Congressional subcommittee in June.

THOMAS D. HOMAN: “We still prioritize criminal and national security threats. What we’re saying is, but no population is off the table. We you start taking entire populations off the table, you destroy the foundation of law enforcement.”

CASTELE: In the president’s first hundred days, there were 44 percent more immigration arrests in Ohio and Michigan than over the same period last year, according to ICE. ICE says about 70 percent of the people arrested in the region had some form of criminal conviction, though non-criminal arrests more than tripled here compared to the start of last year. Homan faced questions about one case in particular: that of a New York teen who had been ordered removed from the country, and was arrested by ICE just before his prom.

THOMAS D. HOMAN: “The country I grew up in, if you’re violating the law, you should be uncomfortable. He should be looking over his shoulder if he’s in this country in violation of the law, has been ordered removed. He should be worried that he’s going to be arrested.”

CASTELE: Homan said there are plans to expand cooperation with local law enforcement. In Lake County, Sheriff Daniel Dunlap says he does not have much contact with ICE. But he has reported several people to immigration in the past year after they were arrested for other offenses.

DUNLAP: “We’re going to continue to do our job. Like I said, we’re not going out into the street and into the neighborhoods and looking for Latinos or anybody else.”

CASTELE: In Trump’s first hundred days, ICE says, there were more than 30,400 arrests nationwide of undocumented immigrants with criminal records. The agency says serious offenses, such homicide, rape, assault or kidnapping made up more than 2,700 of those convictions. Immigration attorney Kim Alabasi says the government does deport people charged with offenses such as domestic violence—but also those who face less serious charges.

KIM ALABASI: “Most of the offenses that I’m finding are traffic offenses. So for example, driving without a license, or speeding…they’re low-level charges such as trespassing, which I’ve had recently.”

CASTELE: In prior years, some people facing deportation had been allowed to stay in the U.S. if they checked in with authorities regularly. Attorney Elizabeth Ford says that’s changing.

ELIZABETH FORD: “For the people who have those yearly check-ins, I’ve seen almost all of them be told, now you need to start making a plan to leave.”

CASTELE:  She says some are given a date when they’ll need to have a ticket to leave the country.

Lake County Courthouse in Painesville (Tony Ganzer / ideastream)

GANZER: We’re standing on East Erie Street in Painesville now, outside the office of Lake County Sheriff Daniel Dunlap.  He spoke to me a little more about how his deputies work with immigration authorities..or don’t, especially in the face of vocal opposition to a policy out of City Hall, down the street, of reporting certain crimes to ICE:

SHERIFF DANIEL DUNLAP: “All that we have done is notify ICE officials when appropriate about people who have violated the law, and generally have been arrested.  This idea that the police are going into local communities heavy-handedly searching for illegals is a bunch of baloney. Last 12 months we’ve reported about four people to immigration. We haven’t gone and found them, they have come and found us.  They crash their cars into innocent people, had no driver’s license, no insurance.  My first really serious brush with an illegal immigrant is  the guy who killed Margaret Kostelnik on Ravenna Road here a couple years ago.”

GANZER: “What do you think, then, about this reaction that you’re seeing? If that’s the case, that the deputies are not looking for anybody who’s here undocumented, or illegally, that there is this perception within the community that they think anybody in a uniform is going to get them?”

DUNLAP: “People like to play hero,  and they’re going to trump up and do all kinds of things—maybe that’s a bad word.  But they’re going to puff up in front of the city council and say how evil it is, and how they’re going to protect people.  Our job as policemen is to protect people. On the other hand we’re going to do our job when we have to. We’re going to report people who are violent offenders, who are here illegally.  And the one man that we had that we did call ICE about who crashed into a car on North Ridge Road in Perry, had been deported seven times. Seven.  Painesville’s not full of bad Latinos or any other.  But we have a nuclear power plant nearby.  It does not make me a federal agent,  or my men and women federal agents, when they cooperate with Homeland Security, and I try to identify people who might be a threat to the nuclear power plant.”

GANZER: “I think what I’ve heard from a lot of people, that they say the climate around Painesville has degraded; that even if there are not crack-downs or raids like Painesville saw in 2007, for example, there’s a feeling of more pressure, more targeting.  How does that make your job more difficult, as a law enforcement officer?”

DUNLAP: “If people deal with the real facts of things—I’ve got calls that ‘your deputies did this, or your deputies did that’ and I say let’s look into it, honestly.  I’ve met with the HOLA people and others, and most times it’s resolved by them knowing all the facts.  I try not to assume one side of the story, and I listen to people.  And that guy that called all revved up about the whole thing and what the police are doing the other day, I said slow down, I’ll listen to you.”

Lake County Sheriff Daniel Dunlap (Nick Castele / ideastream)

GANZER: “The President has said some strong things—you’re not the President, and I’m not putting his words in your mouth—but it does seem to have caused strong reactions from both sides of the political spectrum. How do you see that affecting Lake County, and affecting your work and your deputies’ work, if at all?”

DUNLAP: “My basic beliefs are, the country will be in bad shape if everybody only obeys the law that they agree with.  And the sheriff should not be the guy who gets to pick and choose which federal rules, laws, regulations he or she obeys.”

GANZER: “So is it fair to say your primary concern is the criminal violation, secondary concern would be legal status?”

DUNLAP: “You couldn’t have said it better.”

GANZER: Daniel Dunlap is Lake County’s Sheriff .

ROSIE: “This is not our country, but we adopted it, and we love it here, because we live here, our kids live here, they were born here.  And this is our main concern it’s not about us, it’s about our kids, because they are our future.”

GANZER: Rosie is one of Painesville’s residents who doesn’t have legal status. She and a few acquaintances met to talk to me about their thoughts on immigration, and on the immigration climate around Painesville.  Rosie says there is a sense of fear among some in the community who are here without residency or work permission. 

She says she felt fear when she crossed the border, not knowing where she was, and what would happen.  But the fear now is different.

ROSIE: “I’m not scared so much about me, but I’m scared about my kids, because they were born here.  They go to school, they have dreams, too. They want to go to college. One of them want to be a [veterinarian], the other one wants to be an architect. Their dreams now are my dreams.  I’m not worried about me anymore. I’m going to do whatever I can for them.” 

Rosie relies heavily on her faith, knowing that whatever happens is because it was meant to be. And she recognizes not being documented puts her at risk.

ROSIE: “I don’t really work.  I work for my kids: I’m taking them to practice, taking them to school. I do like a little things under the table, you know—I’m not supposed to say that, but you know—like housekeeping, like to get at least bread on my table.  And I’m talking about food.  I’m talking about shelter. I’m not talking about like big trucks.  I’m talking about like regular food. Maybe because I don’t work, I’m not paying taxes right now, and…I know people are always saying ‘ah, but they don’t pay taxes, they don’t pay that,’ but you know I’m trying to help the community as well.  I do a lot of volunteering time at school, at church, and at the free clinic I can translate, they call me and I can call—but I’m paying back to this country.”

Rosie has been in Painesville long enough to remember immigration raids about ten years ago, that led some people to fear answering the door in case it was a federal agent.  Since President Trump has taken office, Rosie thinks some behavior has shifted.

ROSIE: “You know what changed the most? There was like racists around, but it wasn’t like really showing up. Now like Trump like open up, like maybe people would think about it, you were walking at a store they would see you ‘oh, they are Mexican, okay that’s fine.’ And now like he open like the Pandora Box, is that how you call it?”

Candelaria Hernandez agrees that she feels things have changed since the President has taken office.  After being here nearly 10 years, she’s facing deportation on June 23, to be sent to her mother near Leon, Mexico—where many in Painesville’s Hispanic community have a connection. 

She says only her mother is there, in a village without electricity, or running water. 

An older son has legal residency so he’ll stay, but her 8-year-old daughter, a U.S. citizen, has to go with her mother.

A sticker for Club León, a professional soccer team in León, Mexico, seen in Painesville. (Tony Ganzer / ideastream)

This situation did not arise from the Trump administration, though. Hernandez received her deportation order in December, under President Obama.  She received a GPS ankle bracelet a year ago, under President Obama.

Hernandez says more was expected from President Obama on immigration, because much was promised.  The Trump Administration last week did say it was not immediately doing away with DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, put in place by President Obama. 

But the current White House did say it was dropping plans for DAPA, a similar deferred action for parents of U.S. citizens.

Rosie and Hernandez both say there were big hopes for DAPA:

ROSIE: “We were like really hope in the DAPA, and then we were like so happy, we were excited. We were making like ‘oh, I’m gonna go and get my GED, and then I’m gonna apply for school, and then I’m gonna do this…and then everything stopped.”

Some don’t think the current climate around immigration has much to do with President Trump, Obama, or even local Painesville policies of reporting certain crimes to immigration authorities.

Oscar Ornelas has been in the U.S. more than 26 years, and he’s been a citizen since 2007.

ORNELAS: “I assume all this changes came from 2001 when the terrorists attacked the Twin Towers.  So I think all the changes came from that period, from George Bush.  Obama, like you mentioned right now, he was the president who deported more people than other presidents, in his period.  Obama is under the order of the Congress and other politicians groups.  So it’s very difficult for a president to move by their self.  And I just want to add this, if the government gives us the opportunity to educate the people, I think the crime will be less, less, and less.  Kids need to find the way to be more for this country, but if we stop their dreams they’re gonna step back and do something wrong, something different.”

Oscar Ornelas has been a citizen since 2007, and he wants more done to encourage kids to embrace the U.S. (Nick Castele / ideastream)

The focus on the kids is evident for mothers like Rosie, and another who’s been here 11 years named Faviola.  The mother of five boys says Painesville’s Hispanic community is vital to the city’s future:

FAVIOLA: “I’ve had my house, already I lived in there for 11 years. I’m stay here, you know.  I have five boys.  I support my kids in school. I volunteer when people need me.  I’m not a criminal, you know. I’ve not kill anybody, I’m not robber, you know…the Painesville community is a lot of Hispanics. Business is Hispanics.  The community they can be empty, and what happened the community empty? It’s like Cleveland, empty buildings, empty house.”

ROSIE: “And there’s a difference, you know.  The landscapings, and the houses, you know, we are rebuilding the houses. They were like tearing down, so you can see a lot of difference.  But I mean we’re doing good, but they just see only the bad stuff.  It’s like when you have a box of apples.  If one is rotten, the other ones are gonna rot not.  You take it out soon, you can eat it good, and then they think we’re all the same.  But it’s not about race. It’s about human being.”

GANZER:  This hour we’ve brought you voices from Painesville, in Lake County. Some have said this community is a microcosm of our country when it comes to the immigration debate. 

Some call Painesville “Little Leon” after the Mexican city where many in Painesville’s Hispanic community have connections.

After fairly robust debate over policy 413 for reporting certain arrests to federal authorities, Painesville’s city manager this summer announced a community task force to review the policy. 

Even though we’ve paid special attention to Painesville in looking at the immigration debate in Ohio, cities all across the state and the country are making decisions about how they will, or won’t, work with the federal government on immigration law. ideastream’s Nick Castele is back with us, in Painesville’s downtown park. Hi, Nick.


GANZER: So we hear about communities, for example, calling themselves sanctuary cities. But what does that really mean?

CASTELE: Well, there’s not really any one agreed-upon legal definition of sanctuary city. In general, this refers to a local government that either doesn’t cooperate or limits in some way how it cooperates with federal immigration authorities on issues like deportations. Sometimes that means local police won’t ask people about immigration status. Or it means that local jails won’t hold people at the request of immigration authorities. It is worth looking at how the federal government has defined sanctuary cities since President Trump took office. In July, Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke in Philadelphia. He referred to sanctuary cities as areas that, and I’m quoting here, “refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities and turn over illegal aliens who commit crimes.” Now I spoke with Steve Volk, who is a professor of Latin American history at Oberlin college. He was involved in a local immigration issue in the city of Oberlin. And I asked him if he thought term sanctuary could be misinterpreted. And he said yes, and he gave some examples.

STEVE VOLK: “People might feel that they have a greater sense of protection than they actually do have. And in that context, I come back to the sense that sanctuary is a symbolic statement of how we stand with our residents, but it cannot protect you from a legally served warrant. It just won’t.”

CASTELE: So you can hear him saying there, a city can call itself a sanctuary, but that doesn’t necessarily prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement from showing up with an arrest warrant and taking people into custody.

A demonstration in support of immigrants and refugees held in Cleveland in May 2017. (Nick Castele / ideastream)

GANZER: Sure. What are some of the different ways that a city can cooperate, or not maybe cooperate with immigration enforcement?

CASTELE: Well, one question is under what circumstances do police report someone to ICE. Is it when they’re arrested, is it when they’re charged with a crime, or when they’re convicted? What sort of offenses would trigger that report? Another question is do county jails report people to ICE if they are sitting in a cell and they don’t have legal status? And one other question is, if ICE requests that a local jail hold onto somebody because they don’t have legal status, will the jail actually hold them there and honor that detainer?

GANZER: So before, you had mentioned Oberlin’s policy on immigration status issues. Can you update us, how they’re doing?

CASTELE: Well this year, Oberlin updated a resolution that was initially passed several years ago. And here’s how Steve Volk with Oberlin College explains it.

STEVE VOLK: “The city government will not ask immigration status of anyone who comes to use its services, so police, fire, emergency, ambulance, things of that nature, except what is legally required. So that’s the one thing, which is not to go beyond what it required of you under federal law.”

CASTELE: So for example, witnesses and victims of crime would not be asked their immigration status by Oberlin police under this policy. But there are some nuances in how immigration might be handled beyond Oberlin. The city is in Lorain County, and Lorain County jail does report people to ICE if they’re in the jail on a charge and don’t have any legal status. But when I spoke with the jail administrator there, he told me they won’t hold someone there for no reason other than their immigration status at the request of ICE.

GANZER: The Trump administration’s Justice Department has been very critical of local governments that don’t work with ICE. They’ve been trying to crack down. Where does that effort stand?

CASTELE: So earlier this year, the attorney general sent letters to 10 jurisdictions saying certain federal funding could be in jeopardy if they unlawfully hamper immigration enforcement. These are areas had been identified in an inspector general’s report back in 2016, under the prior administration, after a Congressman’s letter prompted this IG investigation. Now, no Ohio government was on that list. But these 10 jurisdictions did submit responses about halfway through this year, saying that what they’re doing does not violate the law. Now the Justice Department says that they’ll review those letters and make a determination from there.

Now also recently, the DOJ came out with an announcement about some rules that will be attached to a grant that they make to local governments called the Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. And what this says is, if you’re a local government that receives this grant, you’re going to have to abide by certain things.

I’m looking at their background information here that the DOJ put out. They said that local governments will have to permit personnel of Homeland Security “to access any detention facility” to meet with someone who is an undocumented immigrant “and inquire as to his or her right to be or remain in the United States.”

Another requirement is that local jurisdictions will have to “provide at least 48 hours advance notice” to Homeland Security “regarding the scheduled release date and time” of an immigrant who’s in their custody.

So you can see how the DOJ is trying to add new strings to this federal funding to get them to comply with what they want local governments to do about immigration issues.

GANZER: Nick, thanks so much.

GOP State Senator John Eklund, represents parts of Lake, Geauga, and Portage counties. I spoke to him earlier about the political climate surrounding immigration, and about Painesville’s robust Hispanic community:

JOHN EKLUND: “I think that speaks volumes to the nature of that community.  They have been a welcoming force, and I think many steps have been taken by many organizations from the NAACP, to the police department, to the state legislature, to try to help with some of the particularized issues that our Hispanic population face not just in Painesville but around the state.  Certainly something like the  Community Connectors program that we have here in Ohio—I know there’s been some great thought and effort up in Painesville to try to use grants from that state program to address some of the particularized concerns of the Hispanic community there: English learning, extra help in school, employment, etc, etc. So I think that’s a good number, and I think the people of Painesville recognize that those folks make as much of a contribution to our community and are as entitled to our attention and our concern as any other portion of our community.”

GANZER: “President Trump, then candidate Trump, during the campaign used very strong language about immigration, as he did with many issues, and he’s continued that once he’s taken office.  What do you think that’s done in terms of the climate?”

EKLUND: “I would say that, my perception only, okay, is that there are some members of particularly our Hispanic communities that are probably feeling uncomfortable, and worried, which I can perfectly well understand.  Let’s face it, they have a life here, and they have a way of life, and taken—what I believe to be the wrong way—some of the pronouncements of candidate Trump could be viewed as threatening to them.  But I would hope that over time they would think long and hard about this because number one, if one is here legally they have nothing to fear or to be concerned about from Donald Trump or anyone else. If someone is here illegally, there is a pathway to becoming a citizen if circumstances are right. Now I must say there are other people, I’m sure, who listen to things that it doesn’t matter if it’s President Trump, or candidate Trump, or John Eklund, or anybody else, they’ll read into it something else.  They’ll read into it a ‘call to arms,’ figuratively speaking. And I think they should not take it that way, either. Look, immigration policy in the United States of America is a big issue, and if we don’t address it in a purposeful way, we’re going to continue to be divided by it.”

State Sen. John Eklund. (Photo: Ohio Senate)

GANZER: “Do you think that kind of [immigration] reform is possible under this administration, or do you think we’re too polarized to even talk in that way?”

EKLUND: “Yes, I think it’s possible, and I think it’s possible because I have great faith in our immigrant communities.  I have great faith in the institutions and the structures of our government to do what is best overall for the country without being unnecessarily punitive, and in respecting everyone’s humanity in the process, you bet I think it can be done.”

GANZER: “Is there anything else you think the state can do and state lawmakers can do, even just to assure communities like Painesville that may have this perception of being targeted in a way?”

EKLUND: “There may be, but so often when the state or ‘the government’ at some upper level, supposedly, starts getting involved in those efforts, there’s a measure of its own form of coercion and mandates that go along with them.  I think the best thing we can do is lead by example, when we deal with statewide policy issues in Columbus, to demonstrate to people that yes there is a way to make public policy without screaming and yelling at each other and playing on this divisiveness that some people like to do.”

GANZER: “State Sen. John Eklund, thanks so much.”

EKLUND: “You’re very welcome, thanks so much for having me.”

Find all of our reporting in this series here.

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.