'People are afraid'

Zoe Greszler • Updated Jun 7, 2018 at 12:01 AM

Local families are in crisis following raids that took place Tuesday at two Corso’s Flower and Garden Center locations.

More than 100 Corso’s workers were arrested by agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol agencies. Many now are separated from their families. Some workers could be deported to Mexico; others could be detained to face charges.

“It’s hard for these kids,” Norwalk pastor Elvin Gonzalez said Wednesday. “The kids are left behind with relatives, sometimes with baby sitters, so they just had to take them in. The children are just crying, asking for Mom or Dad. They don’t know. They don’t fully understand what’s going on.”

Gonzalez described how the children and community in general were coping after federal agents took 114 people from Corso’s locations on Milan Roadin Perkins Township and Bardshar Road in Castalia.

At least one of the 114 was falsely accused and released from custody.

“One person who was initially arrested has been freed because that person was a citizen,” U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown told the Sandusky Register during a teleconference Wednesday. No further information on that case was available.

Federal agents raided the business warehouses, rounding up the workers with dogs and guns, and then using “black zip ties” to bind the workers while documents were gathered and people were interviewed.

The allegations leading to the raid involved harboring and hiring of illegal aliens, aggravated identity theft and impersonation of U.S. persons, said Steve Francis, special agent in charge of Homeland Security investigations.

Those taken in the raid in many cases were parents of children who were left in day cares, with family members and at babysitters, as parents expected to pick up their children at the end of a normal work day.

“We’re trying to find out what to do now,” Gonzalez said. “It’s like (fear) is in the air.”


Parents to be deported Tuesday

According to Gonzalez and Rodolfo Reyes, a U.S. citizen who was present at the time of the raid, those detained are expected to be deported to their original home countries on Tuesday. They are currently being held throughout the state and in Michigan and Illinois, Reyes said.

Gonzalez held a special meeting for the community at his church, Bienvenidos Templo Genesaret Norwalk, at 119 N. Pleasant St., where lawyers and various help groups were assembled to assist the families affected by the raid and pending deportations. 

Members of the community, both Hispanic and Caucasian, brought food items, toiletries, diapers, water and other needed items for the families. Monetary donations also poured in for the families since those facing deportation were often the sole providers for their families. 

“We’re bringing in donations for anyone that can donate to the people that were taken,” Gonzales said “They were the ones working and bringing the food home. Now that (income) isn’t there so we’re trying to see how we can help.”

Rumors circulated Wednesday that the agents also visited Norwalk’s Jefferson Street mobile home park. However, several residents and the pastor said they weren’t aware of that actually happening.

Because federal agents obtained addresses in the raid, “people are leaving their homes,” he said. “That’s why people are afraid. That’s why people won’t come here today because they’re afraid since now they’re seeing immigration trucks all around.”


These kids here were left without their mom’

The mobile home park, which is usually bustling with people walking back and forth from neighbors’ and families’ homes, talking in the roadways while children play ball or ride their bicycles up and down the roads, was bare.

“Usually right now at this time there’s kids everywhere playing and she’s the only one out, my daughter,” said a woman who is a U.S. citizen and asked to be identified only by her last name, Hernandez. “It was crazy here, always. They’re usually always just running around. It’s sad. It’s a lot of people that were involved in all of this.”

Veronica Dahlberg took to Facebook, describing the feelings and heartache many had and said the mini-community was “a ghost town.”

“(It’s) heartbreaking to see how the families had fled, leaving behind vehicles and all of their possessions,” she said after visiting families there. “Their top priority was to protect their families.”

When the Reflector visited Wednesday evening, one family could be seen packing as much as possible into an older model van, stuffing the kitchen items and full-size fan in before the children and adults jumped in and pulled away, leaving odds and ends on the front steps and lawn. 

One family — consisting of a single mother and her children — that was affected by the raid and detention live just a few doors down from the Hernandez family. The mother was detained Tuesday and now faces deportation to Mexico.

“These kids here were left without their mom,” Hernandez said. “She was taken and it was just their mom supporting them. They have an older brother who, as of right now, is taking care of them and they have a sister who is kind of trying (to help). He is around 18 and he just graduated. He asked if (the neighbors) could take care of the kids today because he was supposed to go see a college.”


Community rallies to support

The oldest brother, who is looking after the younger ones, on Wednesday asked his neighbors to stay with the children, who are 10 years old and younger, since he had a pre-scheduled appointment to visit a college. Hernandez said community support has been a “comfort” for many of the families after their loved ones didn’t didn’t come home.

“Pretty much all of them (in the trailer park) have someone who was taken,” she said, estimating 40 percent of the residents have either left or been taken. “(Another neighbor), they took his wife so he’s left with just him and his kids too.

“Like right now we’re all getting together, getting food and stuff to help. We’re helping as much as we can. They’re all feeling really bad. They’re scared. Right now, I know there were a lot of kids left at babysitters, and you’re not even talking about 5 years old or 8 years old. You’re talking about 6 months, 4 months — babies. I know there are people getting together over there trying to help.

“We’re all getting together, the people around here are gathering food and taking them whatever they need. We’re just trying to help them,” Hernandez said.

She said HOLA Ohio, a non-profit grassroots organization seeking to help Latino families, visited the area to offer help when the organization heard of the situation, even helping to arrange for various shelter locations, including one in Toledo, where she said some of the local families have fled.   

“And I know St. Paul was taking some of the kids and taking them over to St. Alphonsus (Church) to help them, feed them, to try and make their day a little better so they don’t have to think about that kind of problem,” she added.


‘It’s not the kids’ fault’

Family members gathered Tuesday night at St. Paul Catholic Church in Norwalk.

“We fed a bunch of kids at the Discovery Camp (Wednesday),” said the Rev. Kenneth Morman, pastor of St. Paul. “There were 12 kids who lost their family.”

Discovery Camp is the church Bible school at St. Alphonsus Church in Peru.

“It’s sad,” Morman said, “Our position is no matter what the legalities are ... these kids need care. We have to take care of children who are hungry. We’ve had a lot of people step forward with donations. It’s not the kids’ fault.”

Morman said none of the 12 children attend Norwalk Catholic School. All of them attend PSR (Parish School of Religion).

The pastor talked about the fact those taken away are illegal immigrants.

“They can’t be legal,” he said. “When you apply for a work permit it is like a 17-year wait. It’s impossible for these people to be legal.

“Meanwhile, we have businesses who are hurting for workers,” he added. “It has to be fixed from the Congress side. We have to change the laws. It doesn’t help anybody.”


‘Terrorizing immigrants and breaking up families’

“The Trump Administration thrives off of terrorizing immigrants and breaking up families,” said Lynn Tramonte, deportation defense coordinator for America’s Voice Education Fund and the director of America’s Voice Ohio. “The tactics and strategy on display from ICE are part of this larger agenda, but are outrageous and unacceptable. Members of Congress and the Ohio congressional delegation need to investigate the issues and stand up for for the American children who will are missing a parent today, because Trump’s political police force wanted ‘shock and awe’ headlines and to spread fear.”

America’s Voice is an organization that promotes immigration reform.

Other observers similarly condemned ICE’s tactics and larger motivations.

“There were many children left behind with baby-sitters, day care centers, and so forth, what’s going to happen to those children?” HOLA of Ohio executive director Veronica Dahlberg said in a prepared statement.

“Government is overreaching and trying to make a big splash, instill fear in the business community and immigrant communities and make the headlines,” attorney Josie Gonzalez said. “It’s a tremendous use of resources to accomplish that purpose.”

“We have gone to the Department of Homeland Security and told them that in the absence of a real solution to the immigration problem, enforcement activities do more harm than good,” said Craig Regelbrugge, AmericanHort’s senior vice president for industry advocacy: “While these agencies are technically correct in enforcing the laws, is this really the best use of their power?””

Faith leaders across Ohio denounced the largest immigration worksite raid of the Trump Administration.

Here is a sampling:

Cantor Jack Chomsky, Congregation Tifereth Israel, Columbus: “I raise my voice along with many clergy of different faiths and denominations to speak out strongly against the recent raids by ICE in Sandusky, Ohio. What a complete violation of our communal and religious values. Our country needs reasonable immigration policy reform, something Congress has failed to do for a generation. Victimizing hard-working people in our communities, no matter their immigration status, tears apart the social fabric of our society and is a terrible waste of public resources.”

Imam Horsed Noah, Somali Islamic Centers of Ohio, Columbus: “As an Imam and a parent, I believe rounding up and deporting our neighbors, students, coworkers, friends, and family is a great injustice. Although people can be given labels such as ‘alien,’ ‘undocumented,’ and ‘illegal,’ people of faith know that immigrants — regardless of their legal status — are individuals deeply loved by God and created in God’s Divine image. Let's love and not deport.”

Sister Carren Herring, RSM, Sisters of Mercy, Cincinnati: “As a Sister of Mercy dedicated to serving God's people, especially those on the margins, I speak out for the dignity of our brothers and sisters arrested in the raids. I ask that we devote our energy and resources to welcoming and valuing our immigrant neighbors.”

The Rev. David Long-Higgins, David’s United Church of Christ, Canal Winchester: “As a pastor in the Christian tradition, I believe the values of protecting and supporting children, working hard to provide for your family, and serving your community are key expressions of the way of Jesus. ICE’s aggressive, cruel raids and detentions directly contradict these values. As a result of yesterday’s actions, hundreds of children are left endangered and traumatized. Communities that have relied on the labor of these workers will be diminished. A more humane and just system must be born so that all people may live a life free of fear where they can live in dignity.”

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