More than 250 people rallied Thursday in front of the Summit County Courthouse to protest last week’s raid of area Mariachi Locos restaurants and the arrest of 35 cooks, dishwashers and servers alleged to be in the country illegally.
HOLA, a grassroots Hispanic organization from Northeast Ohio, organized the effort to draw attention to the fact many of those facing possible deportation have U.S.-born children.
The raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is separating families and “ripping apart the bonds between children and their parents,” HOLA spokeswoman Veronica Dahlberg said.
Dozens of children were among those gathered, some holding signs asking for their fathers to be released.
Miguel Castro, owner of six Mariachi Locos restaurants in Summit and Stark counties and the Plaza Maya in Tallmadge, launched his chain in Akron 12 years ago and said immigration officials have never bothered him before.
He said he was stunned when agents arrived at all of his restaurants Aug. 16 and immediately began handcuffing all of his employees. Some were released after a few minutes of questioning. Others were arrested and released after posting a $5,000 bond, Castro and Dahlberg said.
Others are still incarcerated, not able to make bail, they said.
“I don’t know why they did this,” Castro said.
He said he also was handcuffed and was asked about his hiring practices.
Castro said he told agents his application form does not inquire about a respondent’s citizenship status. When they are hired, they are required to show a Social Security card and a green card.
Castro said the handcuffs were taken off after about 20 minutes. He said he has not been charged with any crimes.
Three Mariachi Locos restaurants — in Stow and in Akron’s Chapel Hill and Merriman Valley neighborhoods — since have reopened, but Castro said he doesn’t have the staff or the confidence to reopen others.
“We are afraid this will happen again,” Castro said.
Guadalupe Ramos attended the rally, holding 2-week-old Nataly in one arm and hanging onto 5-year-old Yoselin with her free hand. Both girls were born in Akron.
She acknowledged her husband, Juan Jose Ramos, is not a legal citizen. She fears what will happen if he is deported.
“I’m by myself now. I have rent to pay and bills to pay, but he is my supporter,” Guadalupe Ramos said.
She said Juan Ramos wasn’t scheduled to work the day of the raids, but picked up an extra shift “because he is a hard worker. He did it for his family.” She said she has the $5,000 bond to release her husband, but authorities won’t accept it because of another pending immigration case.
Yoselin, wearing a head scarf in the colors of the American flag, pleaded for her father’s release on a hand-decorated T-shirt that read: “Please Don’t Deport My Daddy.”
For an hour, rally supporters heard from a couple of dozen speakers: family members whose breadwinners have been deported after raids of other Northeast Ohio businesses, organizations trying to raise awareness of the plight of separated families and clergy members who support the Latino community.
They also chanted to get the attention of motorists as well as pedestrians in the area of the courthouse and Akron City Hall. “Arrest criminals, not working families!” “Let freedom ring!” “Border Patrol, use common sense!” “We are God’s children!”
Dahlberg shared with the crowd a federal report that showed in the first six months of 2011, the U.S. deported 47,000 parents who left U.S.-born children behind. More recent data was not available, she said, but she suspects another 100,000 parents could be separated from their children this year.
She asked the crowd to keep fighting for a change in policy.
“Don’t come here for one hour and then you’re done,” she said. “Register to vote. Keep working to make change.”
The Akron Beacon Journal requested information about last week’s restaurant raid from the Cleveland office of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The request was not filled by the end of the business day.
Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or firstname.lastname@example.org.