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Ohio Immigration Case Highlights Need for Real Immigration Reform

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pedro1Cross-posted from Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Pedro Hernandez-Ramirez is at home in Elyria with his family. This may not seem like a monumental statement, but for Pedro, Seleste and their children, it means everything.

That’s because, until two weeks ago, the government was trying to deport Pedro. Despite the fact that he has lived in the United States for over 10 years, is married to a U.S. citizen, is the father or father-figure for four U.S. citizen children, and is the primary caregiver for his 24 year-old stepson who has severe cerebral palsy, the government wanted Pedro in Mexico, not here. Despite the fact that he could qualify for full U.S. citizenship one day if Congress wraps up the immigration bill this year, the government wanted him gone.

His wife, Seleste, broke down when talking about how he cares for Juan, her oldest son who requires constant care and a strong and loving person who can carry him from the bed to the wheelchair and back: “He never turned away from Juan. From the very beginning, he was there for all of us.” That person is Pedro.

Pedro’s 16-year-old stepdaughter, Stephanie, said Hernandez-Ramirez is like her dad and, like so many other teenagers, he annoyed her sometimes. “He would take my phone away at night and tell me to sleep or bug me until I would get up so I wouldn’t be late for band practice or school. He was just always there,” she said. “Now, I kinda miss him yelling at me. He is the glue that holds this family together.”

When U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement tried to deport Pedro, his community stepped up. Neighbors wrote letters to ICE, over 7,000 people emailed ICE’s Detroit Field Office director and over a million heard about the case through Telemundo, The Plain Dealer, WKYX-TV, and MSNBC.com. Even members of Congress stepped in. The support was inspiring, and it’s what pressured ICE to finally grant Pedro his stay. But it shouldn’t take a national campaign for ICE to realize that the right thing in this case was compassion, not deportation. And the fight to keep families together cannot be solved one by one when millions are in this same tragic limbo.

Fortunately, Congress is already halfway toward a full solution. The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would allow people like Pedro to get on a path to earned citizenship. The House has so far failed to act. But Ohio representatives in Washington like Republicans John Boehner, the House Speaker, and Jim Jordan — who represents the Hernandez-Ramirez family in Congress — have the power to change that.

Speaker Boehner has promised that the House will take up immigration reform this fall, with several bills that address different “aspects” of the immigration system, but none of the bills that have been introduced would help Pedro or his family. One would take the exact opposite approach, and label him a felon because he is here taking care of his family.

The American people (including 68 percent of Ohioans) support immigration reform with to a path to citizenship for immigrants like Pedro. It’s up to Speaker Boehner, Rep. Jordan, and other Ohio Republican congressmen to make that a reality.

Lynn Tramonte lives in Cleveland and is deputy director of America’s Voice, an immigration advocacy organization. On its website, America’s Voice describes how it helped mobilize public opinion in this case with the message “Don’t Deport Pedro.” The website says a petition on MoveOn.org “garnered over 7,000 signatures in less than 24 hours.”