The Compassionate City movement, an effort to bring awareness to social issues through acts of kindness, will turn its attention to the plight of immigrants, migrants, refugees and the incarcerated during October.
The spotlight on the topic comes just days after an Elyria family saw father and husband Pedro Hernandez-Ramirez deported to Mexico. The 46-year-old man boarded a plane Thursday at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport after Immigration and Customs Enforcement said he had to leave the United States.
His wife, Seleste Wisniewski, three stepchildren — including a 28-year-old severely disabled man for whom he served as primary caregiver — and his 9-year-old American-born son live in Elyria.
Outreach to the family is the first act of kindness that Elyria churches are encouraging as they observe the Compassionate City focus of the month.
Easing the struggle
It is a coincidence that immigrants are the focus this October.
Elyria City Council adopted the Compassionate City national model in 2014, and with the city’s bicentennial celebrations this year, churches chose to take actions each month to build a community more focused on others.
January spotlighted the homeless. August was dedicated to children, with many churches encouraging members to take children to church, pray for them and teach them about service.
This month, churches are asking members to write letters to congressional leaders urging them to act on immigration reform, volunteer for prison ministries, correspond with prisoners and pray for the vulnerable populations. The latter is what Wisniewski said her family needs right now.
“I just need many, many prayers,” she said through a text message sent Friday. “I’m scared to think of all of this at one time because I don’t want to have a nervous breakdown. But God is good to me.”
With her husband and his income gone, Wisniewski said she is worried she does not have the income to run her household alone and afraid she will lose her job because she must care for her disabled son, Juan Pino, and young son, Luis Hernandez, alone.
Luis is a fourth-grade student at St. Mary School, where the community is finding ways to help the family.
“We have told Seleste that we are there for her,” said the Rev. Charlie Diedrick, the church’s pastor.
Calling for reform
The circumstances of Hernandez-Ramirez’s case led to a personal appeal from Cleveland Catholic Diocese Bishop Nelson Perez, who implored federal immigration officials to keep the family together.
Perez, who is new to the Cleveland area as the spiritual leader to Roman Catholics in Northeast Ohio, accompanied the family Tuesday to a final check-in with immigration officials before deportation. He was not allowed to speak, but he submitted a letter of support to persuade authorities to stay the deportation.
Now that Hernandez-Ramirez is in Mexico, Perez is continuing his call for comprehensive immigration reform, said Robert Tayek, spokesman for the diocese.
“As the bishop said in his letter, what’s right about this decision?” Tayek said. “Pedro is the main caregiver for a man who needs around-the-clock care and because of the mother’s health issues, he is the only one that can lift the man.”
It was those circumstances and others — Hernandez-Ramirez had a valid work permit, driver’s license, approved I-130 Visa application and paid state and federal taxes — that swayed Perez to get involved after receiving a request from America’s Voice, an immigration advocacy group.
Hernandez-Ramirez has been deported three times since arriving in the United States in 2001. Immigration attorney David Leopold said he would have to wait up to 20 years to return after his deportation Thursday.
“Pedro was proved to be a wonderful man and father,” Tayek said. “Those circumstances made it so that the bishop took a personal stance.”
Remembering a friend
Some in the community are taking the family’s plight personally.
Grace Warner called Wisniewski an angel on earth and Hernandez-Ramirez a good man who deserved better.
“They will be our family forever,” Warner said Friday. “She is intertwined in our hearts and we, I’m sure, will forever be in that family’s heart.
Warner said she said goodbye to Hernandez-Ramirez on Wednesday, the day before he left the area and the day he learned his stay of deportation was denied.
“I know he did wrong, but who hasn’t in their life?” she said. “This kind of thing should be sorted out. He was an easy case. Just go to their home and see that they are real people that deserved more.
Warner said she met Wisniewski and later Hernandez-Ramirez when Wisniewski stepped in as her sister’s primary caregiver in the last weeks of her life. Wisniewski, who works at Wesleyan Village, befriended the family as Jessie Ann Everitt was dying. When the family removed Everitt from the facility, Wisniewski continued privately.
“I can’t even begin to tell you the kind of people they are,” Warner said.
Everitt lived in her daughter’s house for just three weeks. In that time, Wisniewski cared for her and Hernandez-Ramirez made sure the family’s plants were cared for and repotted as needed. He did so as a favor to the daughter.
Luis, the couple’s young son, made a cross for Everitt and would sneak into her room to pray for her, Warner said. She was buried with it.
On the day she died, Warner said Hernandez-Ramirez brought the family a Mexican meal from the local restaurant where he worked and encouraged a final family meal to say goodbye.
“(Pedro and Luis) didn’t come all the time because it was not their job, but when they did they wanted to care for our family just the same,” Warner said. “I had to tell anyone this story. I want to share it with the world because they don’t know the kind of man we lost. ... I just something good has to come out of this.”