Cleveland Heights resident Lynn Tramonte has been sounding alarms on the injustices of the American immigration system for years, long before President Donald Trump's militarized ICE units began rounding up families in the streets.
When she moved from D.C. to Northeast Ohio, back in 2007, she began what today is called the Ohio Immigrant Alliance. In a volunteer capacity, she has been tirelessly raising awareness about specific immigration cases and directing folks to volunteer opportunities.
"People have been coming to me, outraged about what's happening at the border," Tramonte says, "and then I tell them what's happening in our backyard. And they're like, 'Wow, I had no idea.'"
What's happening in our backyard is a slew of what Tramonte calls "gratuitous deportations." Ohio has been a hotbed for aggressive immigration enforcement in large part because of the ICE field office based in Detroit, led by a woman named Rebecca Adducci.
"She's really good at her job," Tramonte says. "You see so many national articles on Ohio deportation cases because of how ridiculous the decisions are. She just doesn't have any qualms. They go above and beyond to be cruel."
Tramonte mentions the case of Jimmy Aldaoud, an Iraqi living in Detroit, who was deported with nothing but the clothes on his back. He spoke no Arabic and suffered from diabetes, and died in Baghdad two months later.
Aldaoud's story received national attention, but many others have flown under the radar. Tramonte references Goura Ndiaye, a 60-year-old Mauritanian man who'd been living in the Columbus area for 20 years when he was detained by ICE, days before he was expected to have surgery on his necrotic hip.
"Instead, they kept him for eight months with no treatment," Tramonte says. "And when they deported him, they told him they were taking him to surgery. Instead, they drove him to a chartered jet."
Tramonte has been at the forefront of raising awareness about the deportations of Mauritanians living in Ohio. Through the advocacy of Mauritanian activists and lawyers, more than a dozen have been released from detention.
"There's still more to get out," Tramonte says. "And now, we need to focus on getting people back. It's not too soon to be thinking about the next president, and bringing home the hundreds of people who have been deported unjustly."
Speaking of the system's ills in general, Tramonte say that you can no sooner lock up the immigration problem than you can enforce your way out of any humanitarian crisis. And thanks to the ravages of climate change, the number of the world's refugees and displaced persons — currently the highest ever — will only increase.
"There will be many more civil immigration violations. That's just the reality. And Americans need to decide, what is the appropriate consequence? Is death appropriate? Is permanent banishment from your family and children appropriate? Is that right?"
All Tramonte can do is continue fighting. Next up for her is a joint effort with a number of lawyers and volunteer groups to get lawyers at every detention facility in the state. The presence of lawyers drastically improves the outcomes for detainees, Tramonte says, many of whom speak limited English and have difficulty navigating the system on their own. Other than that, she says, "Rebecca Adducci usually picks what I work on."
"The big question," she says, "is, are we going to help people or not? Are we going to welcome them? I don't know about you, but I see plenty of vacant and abandoned houses in Cleveland."