More than 100 workers at an Ohio gardening and landscaping company were arrested this week in one of the largest workplace immigration raids in recent years. | AP Photo/John Minchillo

Ohio immigration raid rounded up parents, left children behind

This is a story about children, but first I have to tell you what happened to the adults who love them.

Earlier this week in northern Ohio, 200 or so federal immigration agents with weapons and trained dogs swarmed two garden centers of a family-owned business.

They rounded up and bound the wrists of more than 100 immigrant workers, most of them Mexican and undocumented, some of them U.S. citizens. They marched them to waiting buses as if they were armed criminals instead of the people who bring all those hanging flower baskets and weedless lawns into the summer lives of Ohioans.


Notably, none of the employers who hired them was arrested or charged. They may have to add their business to the growing pile of community casualties of this new immigration policy. Oh well. Ain’t America great again.

One of the employees, Rodolfo Reyes, told the Norwalk Reflector he knows that the officers “have a job to do,” but they were “very, very rough.”

“A bunch of cops came running into the warehouses, pointing guns at people. Everybody was scared. They tied everybody’s hands up with black zip ties. Even (my daughter and I) were tied up even though we’re U.S. citizens. … Everybody panicked because it scared them.”

Salma Sabala, who works at the nursery with her mother and sister, told WNWO-TV that undercover officers initially misled employees by showing up in their break room with boxes from Dunkin’ Donuts.

Then the Immigration and Customs Enforcement show scripted for the media began.

“They’re armed. They had the dogs. We hear the helicopters on top of us,” Sabala told the station. “They took them on a big bus. All I could think about is my mom, because I didn’t know where she was, and also my sister, because I didn’t know where my sister was, either. And everyone was just crying.”

This latest ICE carnival was brought to you by the Donald Trump road show. It’s not really about stolen American jobs or evil immigrants, neither of which is a threat here. It’s about a reality-show president’s desperate attempt to keep his base worked into the frenzy of fear and rage he needs to feel special.

The people you haven’t seen in this latest farce are the children who were left behind, in day care or with baby sitters, separated from their parents.

Here we go again.

The day after the raid, I called Veronica Isabel Dahlberg, who is the founder and executive director of HOLA Ohio, an advocacy group for the large Latino community in northeast Ohio. She is always one of my first calls when another crisis seizes her community.

We sure talk a lot these days.

“We have no idea how many children are currently in hiding,” she told me when I reached her. “We’re still trying to find that out.”

Earlier, in a Facebook post, she described her trip to Norwalk, Ohio, where most of the detainees live. She visited the trailer park “where hundreds of Mexican families who work in agriculture have lived peacefully for many years. It was a ghost town. … Their top priority was to protect their families.”

“People left their cars,” she told me. “There were boxes spilled open. People just disappeared. Most of the children were born here, but many of their caregivers fled because they’re undocumented, too, and they’re afraid of being arrested.”

A local church became ground zero as volunteers helped to gather people and figure out who was missing. “We did a type of triage,” Dahlberg wrote in her post. “We will be collaborating with a team of volunteer lawyers who are on stand-by ready to take cases.”

Imagine relying on a lawyer willing to help you find your missing child.

Jessie Hahn, a workers’ rights attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, says this ICE raid was different from one two months ago at a meatpacking plant in Tennessee. Until this week, it was the biggest such raid — ICE agents arrested 97 workers, mostly from Mexico and Guatemala — but everyone was taken to a single location for processing.

“They were in a National Guard armory, and everyone in the community who felt safe to be there could see who was getting released,” she said in a phone interview.

This time, though, some of the workers were driven to Youngstown, while others were driven to Michigan.

“I don’t even know if they were processed on-site,” Hahn said. “We’re hearing some were released because they are primary caregivers for their children, but we can’t even confirm that.”

I would love to tell you why ICE did it this way, but I’m still waiting for that return call.

This is what we do now in America. Our government singles out brown and black children and traumatizes them, as policy. We rip their parents away from them and claim we’re protecting jobs that Americans don’t even want.

We don’t even pretend this isn’t what’s happening.

We just say this is how it’s going to be.

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