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If you’ve been following the story of Ohioan Jesus Lara, you know that, at its core, it is a tragedy in which a father of four U.S. citizen children faces deportation in less than a week. But it is also a story of a small town in rural Ohio that is 20 percent Latino – where parents are often born in other countries, but their children are native-born American citizens.
Only six thousand people live in Willard, so businesses large and small — from factories and farms to restaurants and grocery stores — rely on immigrants’ work ethic and purchasing power to sustain them.
The New York Times published a front-page story on Willard, “One Ohio Town’s Immigration Clash, Down In the Actual Muck.” The Norwalk Reflector has been covering Lara’ case since May, and the Sandusky Register is also tracking it. The Cleveland Plain Dealer published a compelling, front-page article in prime Sunday paper real estate, complete with an extended photo array online.
Willard is not used to being in the limelight. It is represented by a U.S. Congressman, Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Holmes County), who probably never expected to be asked to help a constituent in this way. As is typical, members of the news media are contacting federal lawmakers to ask about their support for the case, and Gibbs’ office has been responding with “no comment.”
“These are Rep. Gibbs’ constituents, and the children who will be most harmed by this deportation are American citizens,” said Lynn Tramonte, director of Ohio’s Voice. “Jesus is a taxpayer and a homeowner in Gibbs’ district. Rep. Gibbs is a powerful man and a member of the same party as the president trying to deport Jesus. Surely he can pick up the phone and make one call to try to save this family.”
Rep. Gibbs’ office has been providing either non-answers or lashing out at the media. The Sandusky Register reports that Gibbs’ office has offered no comment, while the Norwalk Reflector obtained some colorful protestations from Gibbs’ Communications Director Dallas Gerber:
Gerber emailed the Reflector on Monday, requesting to discuss the Lara story. After the Reflector left phone and email messages, Gerber sent another email, questioning the newspaper about a “PR firm” involved in the Lara case, alleged “snarky comments” in the story and whether only Republicans are being interviewed.
The Reflector provided answers to each of Gerber’s questions and again asked for Gibbs’ stance on the Lara case and why multiple news outlets have said Gibbs was unavailable for comment. He also was asked about the petition drive.”
Jesus Lara’s eldest son Eric has launched a petition asking Rep. Gibbs to intervene in his dad’s deportation case. It has been signed by more than 34,000 people across the country, including several hundred in Ohio’s 7th Congressional District.
“This is simply a local family doing everything possible to try to stay together. We’re not asking for the impossible. We’re asking for Rep. Gibbs to pick up the phone and advocate for his constituents. Jesus is a taxpayer who owns his own home and is a vital presence in his children’s daily lives. We should all do everything we can to keep this loving family together, at home, in Willard,” Tramonte concluded.
EDITOR’S NOTES: On Tuesday, the Reflector received this statement from Gerber: “We do not comment on our office’s casework. On the issue of illegal immigration in general, Congressman Gibbs has always believed if someone entered the United States illegally, or overstayed their visa, they should be sent home and enter the United States legally.”
Also, the office of Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) provided this statement to Reflector: “Yes, we contacted ICE on his case multiple times. Unfortunately, there was nothing we could do to help. He has exhausted all appeals.”
Comments from the office of Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) were reported in a previous story. A Norwalk man also has reached out to Brown’s office, seeking intervention.
Lynn Tramonte serves as deputy director of America’s Voice and director of Ohio’s Voice. For more information, visit www.americasvoice.org.