Luis Hernandez cries Thursday after his father went down the hallway to his flight as his sister, Stephanie Rodriguez, tries to comfort him. BRUCE BISHOP / CHRONICLE
CLEVELAND — The cries from Luis Hernandez started almost immediately.
The moment the 9-year-old boy lost sight of his father, Pedro Hernandez-Ramirez, at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Luis emitted a cry Thursday afternoon that any person would recognize as anguish. Gone were the tiny glimpses the boy could take of his father as the 46-year-old man snaked his way through security at the Transportation Security Administration’s checkpoint.
Hernandez-Ramirez was wearing a beige-colored cowboy hat, so he had been visible through the growing line of passengers waiting to take off their shoes, dump their belongings in plastic totes and walk through a metal detector.
Eventually the hat’s brim disappeared from view.
In response, the only thing Luis could do was cry.
His father, who arrived in the United States in 2001 and held a driver’s license, work permit and prior federal approvals to stay in this country, was being deported, and Luis was there to see it.
A sister’s comfort
Luis’ prolonged high-pitched wails pierced the hustle-and-bustle of the concourse.
His older sister, Stephanie Rodriguez, knew what the sound meant. The family was entering into a new world of uncertainty without her stepfather, who could no longer stave off the inevitable. There were no last-minute reprieves from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The family had better luck in 2013 and 2014 when stays of deportation had bought their family more time.
Stephanie, 20, grabbed Luis. She was crying, too.
She placed a hand across his forehead and used the other to grab his shirt, pulling him into her body as they walked behind their mother, Seleste Wisniewski.
Wisniewski was crying even harder than her children.
“This is horrible — the pain, oh, my God … to know, he is going to go one way, and I am going to go another,” she said.
A world away
After more than 15 years in the United States, a lot of that spent in a neat little house on West River Road South with Wisniewski, her three children and Luis, the only child the couple had together, Hernandez-Ramirez left the country Thursday with a backpack of clothes and a guitar. He wore cowboy boots on his feet and that beige hat on his head.
He had a Mexican passport in his hand.
Not even the pleas of Cleveland Catholic Diocese Bishop Nelson Perez could stop the deportation.
Federal immigration officials were not swayed by Hernandez-Ramirez’s request to stay and continue to care for his severely disabled stepson, Juan Pino, a 28-year-old with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair and calls Hernandez-Ramirez by the nickname “Chunch.”
In published media reports, ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls said Hernandez-Ramirez was deported three times, and it is time for him to be deported again.
Walls did not return a call Thursday after Hernandez-Ramirez left to discuss how and if he could re-enter the country.
Hernandez-Ramirez had a seat on Delta Flight 3852 to Detroit. It departed Cleveland at 1:39 p.m. It landed at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport at 2:20 p.m.
Hernandez-Ramirez was to go on to Mexico City, Mexico, and then to Acapulco de Juárez, Mexico, where relatives waited for him.
The Washington Post, in a piece just a month ago, called the one-time resort city “a symbol of the skyrocketing violence in Mexico.”
It’s a far cry from life in Ohio.
It’s a world away from Elyria, where Luis will soon return to his classroom at St. Mary School.
Last day with Daddy
On Thursday afternoon, while his mom openly displayed her family’s pain, illustrating a family ripped apart when a patriarch is deported, Luis was there the entire time.
He fidgeted with restless energy.
He ate a hot dog.
He drank a red Powerade.
He talked to his neighbor, DeMareya Randleman, whom Luis has known his entire life because Randleman and Stephanie Rodriguez went to Elyria High School together.
“Growing up, we had to babysit Louie to be in the house when no one was here,” he said.
“… They didn’t really give him a chance,” Randleman said about Hernandez-Ramirez. “They should have done a home visit to see Pedro. He’s a dad. He’s like the neighborhood dad. Everyone goes to Pedro.”
Luis watched his mom take phone calls, talk to her attorney and cry. She cried a lot in two hours.
Luis talked with his dad, searching his pockets for change for the nearby vending machines.
“My daddy bought that for me,” he said at one point when asked by a reporter if he was giving his father his Lego Ninjago building set that was tucked beneath his father’s belongings. “He got it from Toys R Us for me.”
“Deportation” is a big word for a kid to talk about. Luis talked in terms of good and bad.
“My dad is not a bad guy,” Luis said. “My dad is a good guy, and he loves me. My dad’s not bad.”
Luis turned his gaze at the people around him as his sister spoke to reporters.
“Well, I don’t know. I really don’t know how to feel. It’s a whole bunch of emotions,” she said. “What’s hurting the most is watching my brother be without his father. They were inseparable from the day he was born. Like I tell everyone, every stepdaughter with their stepdad has their ups and downs, but my love for him will never go away. I’m going to do the best I can for my brothers, my mom — keep her together. We will find a way to get him back. The right way.”
Inside the family’s home, just 24 hours before Thursday’s airport farewell, the “keep it together” mindset was not yet cemented, especially not in Luis, who was not measured in his words or composed in his actions.
Luis came home from school in a tornado of emotions.
Hernandez-Ramirez picked his son up from school earlier than usual because he said he wanted to spend every second with him that he could.
Wisniewski had just taken a phone call from her attorney, David Leopold. The immigration specialist delivered the news that Hernandez-Ramirez’s petition to stay his deportation had been denied.
Telling Luis, whom the family calls “Louie” or “Bubbie,” was first on her mind. Wisniewski spent so much time fighting for her husband; she said she wasn’t prepared to tell her son she had lost.
But Luis walked in the door before his father did.
In a rush, Wisniewski asked him if his father had told him what happened.
She just blurted out the news: Luis’ dad was going back to Mexico.
His cry was a precursor to the one that tore through Hopkins on Thursday.
Luis turned to run to his room. His feet hit the stairs. He dropped his book bag with a thud.
He stomped up the steps until he reached his bedroom. The door slammed.
He cried away from the eyes of others until Wisniewski called for him to come back downstairs.
“Bubbie, Daddy needs you,” she said.
Luis returned. Moments later, he turned to his mother and looked into her eyes.
“Mama, my teacher said she was praying for Daddy. She said my whole school was praying for Daddy,” he said.
“I know,” Wisniewski said.
“Everyone prayed for Daddy, and this happened,” Luis said.
When asked the next day how she was going to explain all that happened to her son, Wisniewski was at a loss for words.
When she saw the photos of her son — the same ones that appear with this story — for her to decide if her son’s anguish should be shared with the world, she was clearer.
“Show them. They’re real. People need to see what is happening,” she said.
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