Motivated by separation of immigrant children from their families at the U.S. border and during Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids, Lorain County residents participated in Families Belong Together rallies Saturday.
Many attended the rally in Cleveland, with some having a hand in organizing it. Others made the roughly seven-hour trek to Washington, D.C., for the national protest, courtesy of a bus trip that left from El Centro de Servicios Sociales in Lorain on Friday night and was funded in part by a stipend from the YWCA USA.
While returning from the national rally in Lafayette Square, residents from Norwalk, Lorain, Willard and other Northeast Ohio communities reflected on their experience as part of the march through the nation’s capital.
Lorain Councilman Angel Arroyo, D-6th Ward, helped organize the bus trip and gather community members for the event, taking about 42 people to the event.
“It’s just an awesome feeling to be with people from around the country united by the same cause to help keep families together,” he said.
Arroyo said he met with groups from other states and explained to them the situation in Northeast Ohio, including the number of families affected by the recent ICE raids, which he said many were unaware of.
“A lot of people did not know the raids that Border Patrol did,” he said, “so we were just telling them about (it), and it was an opportunity to build a bridge and continue to fight this battle.”
Arroyo said he plans to continue to rally the community and push against current immigration policies.
“I guess one of the biggest things is to continue to build a fire with the people that we were able to go to D.C. with and continue to advocate the message to their friends and help fight this battle that we’re fighting. I know there’s going to be rallies coming up over the next few weeks and days, and we’re going to continue going to those and build a strong advocacy.”
For Ariana Leandry, 17, of Lorain, the day in D.C. was an eye-opening experience. While she has been involved in other rallies and immigrant-rights projects, as her father is the director of El Centro, the Families Belong Together march in D.C. was the largest she had ever attended.
“My biggest takeaway was getting to see democracy in action. Being surrounded by people that you know have the same intentions, wishes, and want to get the same things done as you is a really moving experience and I’m really happy that I got to be a part of this piece of history.”
She said she hopes to see the community and county come together in the same way the nation did during Saturday’s march.
Cleveland’s rally saw about 2,500 braving the 100-plus heat index to march in Public Square. The event, organized in part by Lorain County residents Lili Sandler, founder of Lorain County Rising, and Javier Espitia, deputy regional director of Cleveland’s chapter of For Our Future, urged Ohioans to come together to protest the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy and the separation of families.
“We wanted to show solidarity with the folks that were affected by those raids, with our neighbors around the state and do what we could to magnify the issue as much as possible,” Sandler said. “(Holding) that in a larger city is going to have a greater effect … and there were lots of other (Lorain County) residents, I saw at least, that I knew, 15 to 20 probably even more than that, and obviously there were more that I don’t know.”
Like many who attended Saturday’s protests, the issue was personal to Sandler, of Oberlin. A granddaughter of Jewish refugees who were turned away at the U.S. border during World War II, she said she can’t imagine if her father had been taken from her grandparents when they tried to cross into the United States. And as a mother, two of the most horrible things that could happen to her children — for her — would be if they were taken from her, or dead.
“The fact that our country is now practicing this methodology with increased frequency and no regard to the effects on these children and parents, it’s inhumane and it’s unacceptable and it must end,” she said. “It’s left to the citizens to this great country, we have to stand up and say this is not OK, and so I feel compelled to do so, as an American, as a parent, as a first-generation American, all of those things.”
For Espitia, of Lorain, the cause also hits close to home. The son of undocumented immigrants, with brothers who also were undocumented throughout his childhood, he said it was “not but for the grace of God” that he wasn’t one of the children separated from their parents.
“I had the good fortune of being born on this side of the border in the United States,” so now we just keep fighting, keep pushing, so hopefully that trauma that (these) children have been through just stops completely and that eventually they are able to be reunited with their families.”
Espitia said the most moving aspect for attendees was hearing children directly affected by the ICE raids share their stories. The recently created Los Ninos de Corsos, comprised of children whose parents were detained following immigration raids at two Corso’s Flower and Garden Centers in Ohio, put faces to the events that made national headlines only weeks ago.
“Young teenagers, young kids who just have been going through that unnecessary trauma … have the courage to stand up in front of thousands of people, talk about their experience, talk about how their dad, their mom, in one case was literally arrested and detained right in front of them … but still have the courage to find a way to describe it, to share their experience with everybody and put a face to it,” he said. “It’s one thing to read about it in the newspapers or watch it on TV, but to actually see the face of the kids who are being directly impacted, it’s definitely something else.”
Dr. Laura Manns-James, a health care provider and Oberlin resident, said she was in part prompted to attend the Cleveland rally because of the trauma children involved have experienced. Childhood stress and trauma are one of her research areas and she said it can cause lasting physical damage.
“Kids that experience severe stressors and trauma have long-lasting physical issues,” she said. “So I think we think of these things as hurting people’s feelings, but it’s laying down how people respond to stress from here on out. So especially for the most vulnerable people, who are children, that’s another reason I think that this is a really terrible policy.”
For her, one of the biggest takeaways from Saturday’s event was the number of Americans outraged by recent federal policies.
“I think the biggest takeaway that I have is that many Americans are very disturbed by the policies of this administration and they don’t feel like they’re compatible with our values of our nation because we have been in the past a nation that cares for the vulnerable,” she said. “And I saw a lot of people come and speak about that and try to remind us of what our values really are.”