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El Centro aids some affected by ICE raid in Ohio (VIDEO)

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    Victor Leandry, director of El Centro in Lorain, speaks at a news conference Thursday at El Centro.



LORAIN — While Tuesday’s immigration raid did not happen in Lorain County, its effects will be felt here, according to the director of El Centro de Servicios Sociales Inc.

The Lorain County Hispanic-Latino Non-Profit Advocacy organization was on the ground starting Wednesday in Norwalk, helping families who had lost relatives in the encounter. Immigration officials arrested more than 100 workers from two locations of Corso’s Flower and Garden Center, one in Sandusky and the other in Castalia. The move left children stuck with babysitters or day cares, and at least two families from Lorain County were affected, said Jose Mendiola, director of the Lorain Ohio Immigrant Rights Association.

On Wednesday, El Centro caseworker Anabel Barron and supervisor Thelma Cruz worked with a local church group to contact those who might need assistance — making contact with nine families in a 12-hour span.

“We are one of the few organizations that got to the ground (Wednesday) immediately,” said Victor Leandry, the agency’s executive director, “because we know the need and we know that eventually it’s going to be an issue here in Lorain because those families that are staying behind are desperate and looking for protection and … I guarantee you this, it’s going to be our issue in a few months from now.”

El Centro, along with Councilman Angel Arroyo, D-6th Ward, held a news conference Thursday, with speakers calling the Trump administration’s actions immoral and unjust.

“What the Border Patrol did, ICE and U.S. Customs, was uncalled for and is nothing but pure bullying by our United States president,” Arroyo said. “It is easy to go after men and women who are working rather than what he promised, and that was going after drug dealers, murderers, gang members and killers.”

He highlighted the role elected officials must play in conversations about race, referencing some of the criticism, slurs and insults he has received over the past year.

“Someone approached me a couple weeks ago and asked me and a few other friends, do we speak English? On Monday, someone put on my Facebook page the ‘Roseanne’ thing — ‘Muslims and Planet of the Apes equal Councilman Angel Arroyo.’ That’s the world that we live in, and so we’re here as elected officials and we’re standing for what’s right. … We’re here representing our people, not just those that vote but those that live in the community,” he said.

Janet Garrett, Democratic candidate for Ohio’s 4th Congressional District seat held by Republican Jim Jordan, said the raid was unnecessary and traumatizing for the children involved, challenging the country to “do better.” She called for comprehensive immigration reform — a sentiment echoed by sister Cathy McConnell from Lorain’s Sacred Heart Chapel.

“I think that it’s critically important that congress acts and does something because, as everyone has said, this isn’t the country we were born in,” McConnell said. “This isn’t the country that we recognize and we just can’t continue to allow this to go on.”

Lorain County Commissioner Matt Lundy agreed.

“No child should have to go to bed at night worried about being separated from their parents, or wake up in the morning worried about being separated from their parents,” Lundy said. “The actions that are taking place right now are immoral and un-American. We definitely need immigration reform to address this issue. I am also calling on the attorney general and the president to change their position on this and start telling us more about how they’re handling this issue, not separating parents from their children.”

Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera called what happened in Castalia and Sandusky disheartening and said immigration agents were picking “low-hanging fruit” by going after the men and women working rather than the cartels and gangs.

“It’s time for us, especially law enforcement, to reflect on our true mission, to protect and serve,” Rivera said. “And that means everybody here, including undocumented, those with mental illness, the homeless and people of color. It’s time for us to all reflect and pause before we find ourselves in a country that we don’t recognize.”

El Centro’s staff in Norwalk connected with one family who had lived in Ohio for 16 years. The head of the household was taken in Tuesday’s raid, leaving his wife behind to care for their children, ages 17, 10 and 7. The woman had gone so far as to remove the air conditioning unit from her window, fearing ICE agents would come through it and take her away from her children.

Over the phone, her children said they didn’t feel safe.

“I can’t sleep. When I think about it, I always cry,” the 10-year-old said.

“I don’t want my dad to go,” the 7-year-old said.

Barron said the stress and fear in the community was overwhelming. Families had stopped leaving the house, and local churches were collecting food, diapers and formula to provide for them. Other organizations, including the Lorain Ohio Immigrant Rights Association, are collecting money to help families with legal fees and other expenses.

“It’s my responsibility, as the director of El Centro, in this situation to help in a (neighboring) county,” Leandry said. “Because the effect of a raid like this, we will feel this effect for years to come — to the economy, to the social services, to the mental health agencies … and those (effects) are going to start moving toward Lorain.”

Contact Carissa Woytach at 329-7245 or

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