Eric Lara is 14. He lives in Willard, Ohio, population 6,000, where country roads and highways connect homes to factories and fields.
I grew up in Sharon Township, Ohio, population 4,000, with more country roads and highways connecting to more businesses that need a lot of land.
When I first met Eric, I felt like I already knew him. He is thoughtful and quiet. When he’s comfortable he starts to talk more, and you realize that his mind has been buzzing the whole time.
When Eric grows up, he wants to become a lawyer. He isn’t sure how to do that, so he got out a notebook and interviewed his father’s immigration lawyer to find out.
Eric’s father is facing deportation in July.
The Lara family was visited by New York Times reporter Miriam Jordan in May. She came to Willard to report on the town’s experience adapting to immigrants — old-time residents who are skeptical of the newcomers; city leaders and businesses who know that Willard needs immigrants in order to survive.
A visit from The New York Times is not something that regularly happens in Willard. Opening your home to a reporter, and talking about the thing you fear the most in life — in this case, permanent separation from your loved ones — is not routine for anyone, anywhere.
But teenaged Eric, his deeply religious parents, and three younger siblings (Edwin, Anuar, and mischievous Elsiy, age six) did exactly that. Because one day in March, after years of uneventful “check-ins” with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — years of paying taxes, and even renewing his legal work permit obtained through an Order of Supervision — Eric’s father, Jesus, was told to pack his bags and leave.
The day ICE abruptly changed things on the Lara family, Jesus left their office in Cleveland with a tracking device on his ankle and instructions to buy a one-way ticket to México. He went home to his family, vowing to keep the ankle monitor hidden so that his children wouldn’t be scared or embarrassed.
But he did have to tell them about the deportation. And eventually they saw the ankle bracelet.
Now, instead of going about the regular business of raising four children home on summer break, the Lara family is counting the days until they are separated — with an ugly, beeping reminder right there on Jesus’ ankle.
Jordan’s piece in The New York Times talks about how some long-term Willard residents are unsure or even resentful of the new immigrant workers. She interviewed Judy Smith, who had attended a community meeting about Jesus’ case in May and “stormed out of the room.”
The article continued, “Growing up poor in Willard, Ms. Smith said, she sometimes faced racial slurs for being Italian. Now she lives on the right side of the tracks, she said, selling used beds, mattresses and clothing, often to ‘Spanish people. That doesn’t mean they all belong here, she said. Her husband said he didn’t like hearing that everyone in the country, legally or not, is protected by the Constitution.”
The thing is, Judy Smith has a lot in common with Eric Lara. They are both Ohioans, and both Americans. They both know what it is like to feel “different” — Smith growing up at a time when Italian-Americans were considered less-than, and Eric now with Mexican parents in small-town Ohio. But, because of an election, Eric — who is a citizen — is facing imminent separation from his father — who is not.
Let’s boil this down to its essence. Eric is an American kid who has a loving father who wants to be with him, and the government is saying no.
Eric is just as American (and just as Ohioan) as Judy Smith or me or anyone else from here. He and his brothers and sisters have the right to want their family to be together, and the law has the tools to allow Jesus to stay. That is how he got his Order of Supervision and work permit in the first place — through a legal mechanism called prosecutorial discretion.
As David Leopold writes in Medium: “[DHS Secretary] Kelly has the unquestionable authority to order his agents to focus on the removal of felons instead of the destruction of families. The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized the Secretary’s power to stop deportations based on the “equities of an individual case” taking into consideration “many factors, including whether” a person “has children born in the United States, long ties to the community, or a record of distinguished military service.”
The Trump Administration has the legal authority to allow Jesus to continue his life with Eric, Edwin, Anuar, and Elsiy in Ohio. But right now, they don’t want to use it.
If you care about these kids, or any kids, you know what the right thing to do is. But even if you can’t or you won’t, at least consider the societal benefits of keeping children together with loving fathers.
According to the Fatherhood Project, a nonprofit program at Massachusetts General Hospital, children who remain close to their fathers are twice as likely to go to college, 75% less likely to have a teen birth, and 80% less likely to spend time in jail.
The right choice — for Eric, his family, and society — is clear. Keep the Lara family together in Willard, Ohio.
It’s not too late for the Trump Administration to stop Jesus’ deportation. They have the tools to do it, and all the reasons they need in the lives of these four American children.
Lynn Tramonte is the Deputy Director at Americas Voice Education Fund. Originally published at medium.com.