Group protests ICE program

Protesters demonstrated across the street from a Seneca County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday morning, but protesters and county officials said discussions were productive.

People from various communities throughout Ohio gathered on Madison Street to protest Seneca County’s partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house immigrants awaiting deportation at the Seneca County Jail..

Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO, said representatives from his organization were in Tiffin to support the efforts of the Latino grassroots organization HOLA on behalf of workers they represent.

“We’re here to support HOLA protesting the jail here in Tiffin that detains immigrant workers,” he said. “This smacks of business, making money off of the tragedies of these families that are torn apart by unnecessary deportations.”

Velasquez said protesters were focusing on commissioners because the board oversees the sheriff, who oversees the jail.

“It seems like there is no oversight,” Velasquez said. “The county commissioners ought to know better.”

According to Veronica Dahlberg, executive director of HOLA, protesters were particularly concerned with the well-being of Ana Gloria Trejo, who has been detained at the jail for nearly 100 days and who Dahlberg said had not had access to medication she needs for diabetes.

“Ana Gloria has lived in Akron, Ohio with her son for 11 years,” Dahlberg said. “She’s a single mom. They only have each other. Evidently, she missed a hearing in California 11 years ago because they did not receive her change of address form.”

Dahlberg said Trejo’s case was emblematic of other issues.

“It’s typical of what we’re seeing in this broken system,” she said. “They’ll use something like that as justification for deportation.”

Dahlberg said the government plans to deport Trejo to El Salvador, where she has not lived since she was 13.

“It would break up this family of two,” Dahlberg said.

Velasquez said law enforcement resources could be put to better use than arresting and deporting people such as Trejo.

“They should be focusing on real criminals, not innocent people like Ana Gloria,” he said. “It seems like a pitiful excuse to deport and tear apart another family, who are hard working.

“They pay taxes, they work, they generate the economy here in Ohio. It’s just shooting ourselves in the foot, as Americans and as a community.”

Trejo’s son, Ilmer Trejo, said his mother appeared on immigration officials’ radar after being charged with a misdemeanor identity theft offense. He said he thought ICE was misrepresenting his mother as a danger to the country.

“We have a lot of letters of character from people who know her very well,” he said. “She’s the one who raised me, and I graduated, and I have a good job. So why would you consider my mom a criminal when all she did was raise her son?”

He also said he was concerned for his mother’s health and that she had not received insulin while in jail.

“She already has signs of having problems with her eyesight,” he said. “She’s having problems with her legs. She’s very weak, and on top of all of that, she has fallen into depression.”

He added that he worried her health would continue to deteriorate if she is deported.

Seneca County Commissioner Mike Kerschner visited the protest site and told demonstrators he was confident Seneca County Sheriff Bill Eckelberry would be compassionate toward people who are jailed.

“I don’t know the legal process, but I certainly know that the sheriff will do what is the right thing and what he can do legally,” he said.

Kerschner said he had been to the jail, but he did not regularly visit. He told protesters he would visit again with an eye to their concerns.

“This is the first time anybody has ever suggested that there are conditions that are less than favorable there,” he said. “I will go out there.”

Later, Eckelberry arrived at the protest site and discussed protesters’ concerns. Though he said he does not have the authority to release anyone at the jail, he was willing to let Ilmer Trejo visit his mother with a nurse to discuss her medical needs.

“The medical staff spoke to her this morning, and she said she was fine,” Eckelberry said.

Dahlberg suggested HOLA work with the sheriff’s office to provide education on working with immigrants. Eckelberry agreed with this idea.

“I’m all for training for our staff,” he said. “If you’re willing to help provide that, we’d be open to that.”

“Do you promise?” Dahlberg asked.

“Absolutely,” Eckelberry said.

While Ilmer Trejo went with Eckelberry to see his mother at the jail, other protesters drove to the jail to continue the protest.

After he visited his mother, Ilmer Trejo said he was glad to have seen her and to have her medical needs addressed, but said he still was committed to seeing her released.

“She’s doing all right,” he said. “She’s hanging in there. But she shouldn’t be there. We’re fighting for justice. Free Ana Gloria.”

Kerschner said he respected the protesters’ right to express themselves.

“This is America,” he said. “They have the right to voice their concerns about any issues.”

Eckelberry said he was glad to have Ana Gloria Trejo’s medical information.

“There are times when we don’t get the information that we should get,” he said. “The good thing about this is, they were able to get the word to us.”

He said he also appreciated Dahlberg’s offer to work with his staff.

“We’re always welcome to additional training for our folks, to help them better understand the cultures that they’re working with,” he said. “I think that’s very positive.”

Dahlberg said she thought the demonstration and discussions with Kerschner and Eckelberry went well.

“I feel positive because the democratic process works,” she said. “We were listened to. Our voices were heard, and they were taken seriously. We weren’t dismissed or told to go away. That means a lot.

“It means a lot that the sheriff would come and speak with us and listen to our concerns, as did Commissioner Kerschner. And there were some positive steps to maybe do some training here to make sure that the staff knows ways to interact with a Spanish-speaking population. I do feel very positive.”