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Berwyn grandmother’s deportation case in limbo

Genoveva Ramirez, 67, of Berwyn talks to reporters outside the Chicago Immigration Customs Enforcement Office downtown, shortly before meeting with immigration officials in May. | Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times

Mariano Castellanos clutched a hand-painted sign someone had given him. His dark hair had been clipped close for the occasion. But words failed the 7-year-old when he was asked if he knew what might happen to his grandmother.

No words were needed about an hour later, when Genoveva Ramirez emerged from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office downtown Tuesday.

To chants of “Not one more deportation!” Mariano threw his arms around his grandmother and held her tightly.

There had been fears that Ramirez, a 67-year-old community activist from Berwyn, might not come out at all — after she received a letter about two weeks ago from Customs Enforcement ordering her to check in Tuesday. Even in a climate of uncertainty for many trying to understand a new administration’s tougher stance on illegal immigration, Ramirez and her supporters say they were shocked to get the summons.

Ramirez, who originally came to the United States from Mexico in 2001 on a visa that has long since expired, said she’d been checking in regularly with immigration officials, but had been told two years ago her case was a low priority and that she needn’t keep coming back.

“I am a little worried, but I’m at peace because I have a lot of people who are with me, supporting me,” said the mother of four and grandmother to 10, shortly before she entered the building to learn her fate.

Mariano Castellanos, 7, was among those protesting at the Chicago Loop offices of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency on Tuesday. | Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times
Mariano Castellanos, 7, was among those protesting at the Chicago Loop offices of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency on Tuesday. | Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times

About 50 people waved signs and chanted in support of Ramirez, including her grandson and two of her grown children.

“When they call one of us, all of us show up — we all come to that check-in because we will no longer allow for them to continue to terrorize our communities,” said Arianna Salgado, an activist with Organized Communities Against Deportations.

Fernanda Castellanos, 30, Ramirez’s daughter and Mariano’s mother, said her son has had a hard time understanding what the government wants with his grandma.

“I explained that we’re going to do everything — that it’s in our hands to keep fighting for her case,” Castellanos said.

It appears more fighting is near. Immigration enforcement officials told Ramirez to come back in a month.

“What the officer did tell us is that all priorities have been rescinded,” said Mony Ruiz-Velasco, Ramirez’s attorney. “So basically that means that everybody can be considered a priority, including Genoveva.”