Federal Immigration Policies Taking Toll on Cleveland Families, Neighborhoods

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Elizabeth Perez speaks at a May 15 rally to raise awareness of mass deportations in the U.S. - ERIC SANDY / SCENE
  • ERIC SANDY / SCENE
  • Elizabeth Perez speaks at a May 15 rally to raise awareness of mass deportations in the U.S.

Marcos Perez ran a yellow light in Mayfield Heights in 2010. He was swiftly arrested and deported from the U.S., as he did not have proper citizenship documentation. His wife, Elizabeth, was left here in Northeast Ohio to raise their children on her own and to do what she could to secure Marcos' return to their home.

That task has proven nearly impossible, and so Elizabeth will move with the couple's four children to Mexico in August. Cleveland will lose a strong voice in the civil rights community — and a veteran of the Marine Corps, no less — and the ongoing federal mass deportation policy will alter the course of ever more lives around the country. There will be one more empty home in Northeast Ohio by summer's end.

"Our elected officials are sitting on their hands and not doing anything, and that is wrong," Elizabeth said today at an immigration rally outside St. Casimir church on Cleveland's east side. "One thing I learned in the Marine Corps is that when something is wrong you open your fat mouth and say it right then and there."

Veronica Dahlberg, executive director of HOLA, shared several other stories, noting that most immigrants are unable to identify themselves to the press for fear of retaliation by federal law enforcement and harassment from their neighbors. She invited one woman to tell the story of her impending forced exit from the U.S., and how she must decide whether to leave her children in the in this country or bring them to Mexico, where her young daughter will be unable to receive treatment for cerebral palsy. "What will happen to them?" Dahlberg asked.

Margaret, a Kent State student, shares her fears over her mother's impending forced exit from the U.S.  "She needs to stay here with us, so I can be someone in the future," she said. - ERIC SANDY / SCENE
  • ERIC SANDY / SCENE
  • Margaret, a Kent State student, shares her fears over her mother's impending forced exit from the U.S. "She needs to stay here with us, so I can be someone in the future," she said.
"I want people to know that immigrants are not a problem," she continued. "They are the solution. They are the solution we need right here in Northeast Ohio. When you talk about empty homes, vacant homes, blight, the opioid crisis, crime — all of that is because we don't have enough people here. We have to lift up the economy, and we know that immigrants stabilize neighborhoods." (New American Economy and Global Cleveland released a report earlier this year that underscores the immigrant community's contributions to the Cleveland area.)

In fact, the neighborhood surrounding St. Casimir has a legacy of being a stronghold of Polish immigrants. There are more vacant homes here than there used to be, but the fabric of the community remains intrinsically tied to immigrants' devotion and hard work.

It's a legacy that can be found in many corners of Northeast Ohio and the U.S. writ large. But it's a story that's being erased now with ongoing federal immigration raids, expanded broadly under former President Barack Obama's administration and floored lately by the zeal of the current president and Departments of Justice and Homeland Security. The net result is a scattered landscape of broken homes in places like Cleveland and — too often — young children growing up in unhappy and desperate environments.

"I just know that this is wrong, and I know that I can't bear to look at another family have to go through what I've been through," Elizabeth said. "I understand how hard it is financially, emotionally; there's a huge spiritual conflict within me about me being here and him being there. I don't want anyone else to go through that."

Today's rally served mostly as a reminder of the depth and ripple effects of the federal government's policies. Dahlberg encouraged everyone to call their elected representatives and urge a more family-forward approach to immigrants.

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