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Communities Across America Seeing Cruelty of Mass Deportation and Rallying Behind Immigrant Neighbors

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Throughout the country, the Trump Administration and an “unshackled” ICE and CBP are seeking to detain and deport immigrants who have lived here for decades, with U.S. citizen children and deep ties to America. After seeing the cruelty of mass deportation, Americans are standing up for their immigrant neighbors, underscoring that the vast majority of the public wants to legalize, not deport, undocumented immigrants.

And as South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg reminds us in a new Huffington Post opinion piece, “it’s not just Americans in New York or Los Angeles who believe that we need a more humane and rational [immigration] system. People in communities like Granger, Indiana are rarely heard from on cable networks. But they too believe it is wrong to deport friends and neighbors who do no harm and much good. Plenty of people in red states believe we must reject the politics of scapegoating and its devastating impact on millions—including American citizens.”

Below, we offer three examples of communities rallying in support of their immigrant neighbors, highlighting stories from Granger, IN; Columbus, OH; and West Frankfort, IL:

Granger, IN

Mayor Buttigieg’s HuffPost piece, “Why These Trump Voters Are Sticking Up For An Undocumented Neighbor,” demonstrates the cruelty of mass deportation and highlights the local community’s reaction to the news that a trusted neighbor, local business owner, and husband and dad of U.S. citizens is set to be deported on Friday:

This week, a conservative community in my part of Indiana will lose one of its model residents. Roberto Beristain came to America without permission 17 years ago, fell in love, and became a cook at a family restaurant. Living the American dream, he wound up owning one of the restaurants he had worked in, buying it from his wife’s Greek-American family after saving up for years. Taking in her son as his own, he had three more children with her, a 9th-grader, an 8th-grader, and an eight-year-old.

Aiming to do the right thing, his wife tells me, he sought a green card, obtained a Social Security card, a work permit, and a driver’s license, and checked in regularly with ICE, all while working and paying taxes here without so much as a traffic ticket against his name. It was during one of these check-ins, a few weeks ago, that he was unexpectedly detained and confronted with a 16-year-old deportation order. He is now in detention in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where his wife is allowed to see him for half an hour a week. After wading through a confusing legal gray zone and pleading to have his case opened for review, last week the family received the devastating news that he will be deported this coming Friday.

…most striking of all is how many of the people now sticking up for Roberto are politically conservative. These are small-town Indiana residents, veterans and grandparents who come to his restaurant after Mass or Rotary. They vigorously defend him as a man they are proud to call a friend. And the more I think about it, the more clearly it is consistent with their conservative values that they stand up for Roberto.

Think of the favorite themes of conservatism: hard work, small business ownership, suspicion of overbearing government, and support for family. Each one of those themes is at stake here—and each is insulted by the prospect of a person like Roberto being ripped away from his business, friends, wife, and children, by a federal agency … those of us who believe in a great America need to ask tough questions about policies that amount to a solution in search of a problem. Tearing apart a community, a business, and a family will make America worse off, every time. Americans of good will, regardless of party, are demanding a better way.

Columbus, OH

A story by Esther Honig on Ohio NPR affiliate WOSU, “Undocumented in Columbus and Planning for the Worst,” highlights how Columbus, OH is developing a deportation defense network to help the local immigrant community get through the cruelty of mass deportation:

Her arms full, Nunes Gutierrez climbs the steps to one front door and knocks. She says this is her third trip to this house. ‘Right now we’re with a family who was recently separated,’ she says. ‘They’ve been living here in the United States for about 13 years and they’re originally from Guatemala and the dad was just deported.’

A pair of eyes peek out through the blinds. A women, barely five feet tall, cautiously cracks open the front door. She’s been expecting Nunes Gutierrez, but she’s undocumented—and fears deportation herself. WOSU agreed not to refer to her full name, just Perez. Standing in her living room, Perez carries her four-month-old son on her hip. Her seven-year-old is asleep upstairs. But there’s someone missing: her husband. ‘It feels like life up to this point has ended,’ Perez says. Two weeks ago, her husband was deported back to Guatemala. He had been out running errands when an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent pulled him over. After being detained, he petitioned to remain in the U.S. but was denied because he had been living in the country illegally. Previously, he’d been convicted of driving without a license.

… A community health worker and instructor at The Ohio State University, Nunes Gutierrez first learned of the Perez family by chance. The seven-year-old broke down at school saying immigration had detained her father, and her teacher reached out to Nunes Gutierrez for help. After connecting with the family, Nunes Gutierrez posted their story to a local Facebook group. The post received dozens of comments and shares from people eager to donate food, money and diapers. ‘That’s how we got started, because we saw, ‘Wow there’s a lot of support, but how do we channel that?’’ Nunes Gutierrez says.

Less than a month later, Gutierrez is already helping three other families. Together with her friends, family and other concerned citizens, Nunes Gutierrez is helping to establish a network for families struggling in the aftermath of a deportation. By using a private Facebook group and WhatsApp, an encrypted messaging service, she can safely connect with other undocumented individuals to warn of a potential ICE presence, or to distribute resources. She’s also developed an online community where people can donate resources, and a cash of trustworthy immigration lawyers.

West Frankfort, IL

A recent New York Times story, “He’s a Local Pillar in a Trump Town. Now He Could Be Deported,” highlighted the case of Carlos Hernandez, a popular longtime resident and father in pro-Trump Illinois coal country picked up by ICE and scheduled for deportation, before community outcry helped to secure his release from detention:

As Victor Arana, a lawyer for Mr. Hernandez, began pressing in court to seek release for Mr. Hernandez on bond until his case can be heard, the community has rallied around him, writing pleas for leniency to the officials who will decide his fate.

Tom Jordan, the mayor of West Frankfort, wrote that Mr. Hernandez was a ‘great asset’ to the city who ‘doesn’t ask for anything in return.’ The fire chief described him as ‘a man of great character.’ The letters have piled up — from the county prosecutor, the former postmaster, the car dealer, the Rotary Club president. In his note, Richard Glodich, the athletic director at Frankfort Community High School, wrote, ‘As a grandson of immigrants, I am all for immigration reform, but this time you have arrested a GOOD MAN that should be used as a role model for other immigrants.’

…Tim Grigsby, who owns a local printing shop and considers Mr. Hernandez one of his closest friends, has been helping to lead the efforts to bring Mr. Hernandez back to West Frankfort. He said he had always known that Mr. Hernandez did a lot around town. But he said that even he did not grasp the scope of it all until the letters started flowing in.