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Unsettled: Legal Status Or No, Focus On Painesville's Next Generation

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

Immigration is one of the more contentious topics in our country today, but this week we’ve been bringing authentic voices with many perspectives to the fore.

We’ve used Painesville, in Lake County, as a way into the discussion. 

Nearly a quarter of the Painesville population identifies as Hispanic or Latino, and some are in the country without legal status…like Rosie.

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.”

Rosie 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.

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.

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

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.”

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.”

Find more parts 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.