PAINESVILLE, Ohio — In sorrow and anger, over 200 people held an evening rally in front of St. Mary Catholic Church here, May 21, protesting sweeping arrests by federal immigration authorities over the weekend.
Waving U.S. and Mexican flags and carrying signs appealing for fair treatment, the crowd marched several blocks to a park across from City Hall. There they listened to speakers who told of early morning knocks on the door and people being snatched from their beds. Others spoke of seeing workers flee into nearby woods to avoid arrest.
As the stories were told, the crowd chanted: “Aquí estamos, y no nos vamos!” — “We are here and we’re not leaving!”
The event was organized by HOLA, Hispanics of Lake and Ashtabula. Painesville is located about 30 miles east of Cleveland.
From Friday through Sunday federal agents dressed in black conducted the largest immigration raid in town memory, arresting 24 people and traumatizing the community.
Those arrested included Mayra Pina, 16, and her husband, Oscar Reynoso, 20. Pina, a high school freshman, was later released to her father, a legal resident, but Reynoso, who was previously deported, is expected to be flown to Mexico.
Pina came to the U.S. from Leon, Mexico, when she was 2, but has no legal status. She and her husband have a baby girl.
As word of the raid spread through the community, some 400 people sought refuge in St. Mary’s small basement Saturday afternoon, while others nailed their front doors shut and fled to the woods. Fearing arrest, many did not show up at work or school Monday.
“A lot of companies have employees who don’t have visas so they aren’t legally here,” said Teresa Fonseca, a U.S. citizen originally from Leon who is a secretary in a tree nursery. “They’re still afraid to show up. They’re treating us like we’re criminals and we’re not. We’re here to work for the United States.”
According to HOLA, about half of the 8,000 Mexican immigrants in Lake and Ashtabula counties lack legal status. Almost all of the region’s 3,000 nursery workers are Mexican immigrants.