After 17 years in America, Beatriz Casillas was deported to Mexico and released into what many consider one of the country’s most violent cities. Other deportees have been kidnapped after arrival.
The Hispanic community in Painesville, Ohio, was on edge Wednesday after the deportation to Mexico of a mother of four who lived in the diverse city of 20,000 people near the shores of Lake Erie for almost 17 years.
Beatriz Morelos Casillas, 37, gave birth to her children in Painesville, worked at local factory, paid income taxes. Her nightmare began 10 days ago during a routine traffic stop when she was arrested for driving without a license.
She was held in the county lockup overnight. The next day she was arrested by U.S. immigration authorities and, because she had been deported in 2001, Immigration and Customs Enforcement simply reinstated the previous deportation order.
She had no right to a court hearing, and on Tuesday she was “repatriated without incident to Mexico,” ICE said in a statement.
“ICE continues to focus its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security,” the agency said. “However, … ICE does not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.”
That represents a change from the Obama administration policy, which focused more on undocumented immigrants who committed crimes.
Veronica Dahlberg, who leads the Latino advocacy group HOLA Ohio, said she was with the family when Casillas called late Tuesday from Nuevo Laredo, a Mexican border town. Her husband, Jose DeJesus, has joined Casillas for now.
“People here are absolutely stunned,” Dahlberg said. “And I think it’s beginning to dawn on everybody that things have changed and some families are at risk of losing it all.”
Jim Fodor, a Painesville councilman and 40-year resident, says that opinions are as diverse as the community — some residents support deportations, others don’t. The federal government, he says, must find an immigration policy that makes sense for everyone.
“It’s a sensitive issue, a hard situation,” Fodor said. “The feeling is that it’s a federal issue. We are trying to manage it and get through it.”
Father Steve Vellenga is the pastor at St. Mary Catholic Church in Painesville. His flock is about 50% Hispanic, he said. Some of those who are not Hispanic ask why the undocumented immigrants simply don’t “get legal.” He said many don’t understand that most undocumented immigrants don’t qualify under current immigration law.
“We don’t appreciate how these people are survivors, the sacrifices they make,” Vellenga said. “But people in her situation saw what happened and they are holding their breath.”
Lake County is renowned for its nursery, or garden, industry. The Lake County History Center notes on its website that immigrants from around the world have played a major role in the industry since its inception in the early 1800s.
“Since the 1960s, Latinos from Puerto Rico and, more recently, Mexico, provide the engine for nursery growth and survival, embarking on their own American Journey of hard work and assimilation,” the website says.
About a quarter of Painesville residents are Hispanic. Dahlberg says the nursery industry and the Hispanic influx have provided stability while so many cities and town in the region have suffered.
“So many people here are working with a shovel all day,” she said. “It’s hard to find people to do that work. Every day from March to November.”
Dahlberg said that in the 1980s, migrants would come for the seasons when there was nursery work, then leave. But as tightened border security made it more difficult for people to go back and forth, people slowly began settling in the city, she said.
Hispanic stores and businesses began to flourish.
“Now you see families, children, great things for the town,” Dahlberg said. “So many people have been here for 15, 20 years or more. But there have been no change to immigration laws except to make it harder” to become legal.
It’s not likely to get easier anytime soon. President Trump voiced support Wednesday for a GOP plan designed to slash legal immigration and block the entry of low-skill, low-wage workers into the United States.
Casillas’ husband is here on the work visa. Her children have citizenship because they were born here. But many in Painesville’s Hispanic community are similar to Casilla, with families where some are legal and some are not.
She noted that undocumented immigrants pay taxes, using Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers issued by the IRS. But for them, things like a driver’s license or insurance are unattainable.
“You can imagine how these families are feeling,” she said. “They have been here so long, but they are still very marginalized. Now they feel like our government is coming for all of them.”
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