In a long-awaited article, Brian Bennett of the Los Angeles Times calls my friend and fellow Ohioan, Veronica Dahlberg, the “guardian angel” of northeast Ohio’s immigrants. That’s her, exactly. But Veronica’s not a passive angel, whispering thoughts in your ear and fluttering her wings. She’s a fired up angel who won’t stop organizing and advocating until justice is done.
You might wonder why Bennett, who writes for a California publication with national reach, made a trip to northeastern Ohio to write about immigration. Because Ohio is a border area. Seriously. The state has had an infusion of federal tax dollars over the last several years resulting in two shiny new border patrol stations and a massive expansion of border agents. But, there aren’t a lot of unauthorized immigrants crossing from Canada into northern Ohio by way of a frozen lake. So, border agents are increasingly coming into local towns and communities to arrest immigrants — many of whom are settled and long-term residents with homes, businesses, children, and spouses that were born here. The border patrol agents work hand in glove with different local police departments – all under the guise of removing unauthorized immigrants from the little towns and larger cities that dot the Lake Erie shoreline. Veronica didn’t plan to make immigrant defense her career, but she’s been unable to do anything else until our government stops separating these American families.
Every time Veronica is interviewed by a national reporter (and that has happened many times), she tells them that she doesn’t have to be in the story, and her group HOLA doesn’t have to be in the story, because the community is the story. Operating on fumes and the occasional tamale fundraiser, HOLA is the epitome of grassroots. For years, HOLA’s work focused mainly on families in Ashtabula and Lake counties, but the calls from elsewhere kept coming. Now, HOLA is active in Lorain and Akron, and Veronica receives calls for help from all four corners of the state.
Bennett’s piece is short, but it’s clear that he “got” Veronica and what she and HOLA are about. I have known her for seven years and she truly has that Ohio humility. She will not take credit for victories, despite turning her whole life over to the cause. The essence of her strategy is to develop leaders within the community of affected families, forge relationships with law enforcement, union leaders, and diverse religious organizations (from rabbis to a Polish Catholic church to African-American pastors), and hold both Democrats and Republican legislators to the same standards. She is not “in the tank” for anyone, except the families. She’s aggressive AND approachable. Friendly and fierce (in a good way!!!). It’s a unique combination. Sometimes her laser focus annoys people, but her cause is always just. You can rebuild bridges but you can’t rebuild families, so Veronica’s priority is keeping them intact in the first place. And she’s great at it.
America’s Voice has been proud to work with Veronica and the inimitable David Leopold, a Cleveland immigration lawyer and national leader, on many cases over the years including three recent ones you can read about here: Ricardo Ramos; Alfredo Ramos; and Luis Padilla. Luis’ stay was just approved last week, while Alfredo’s charges were dropped in April and Ricardo is still living in limbo.
Personally, I’m honored to call Veronica a friend, and grateful to tag along with her and David Leopold as they work to make sure our government’s hunger for “border security” doesn’t lead to family insecurity. Here’s to Veronica for getting the national recognition she deserves!
And now, on to the next case . . .