A west suburban grandmother, ordered to leave the country by the end of October after living in the United States on an expired visa for nearly two decades, filed a lawsuit Monday against the Department of Homeland Security.
Genoveva Ramirez, 67, wants a federal judge to order the government to approve her visa application — or, at least, determine she is at least eligible for a visa so she can avoid being removed from the country by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
“This lawsuit is really important to me because it determines my future,” Ramirez said through a translator in front of a crowd of nearly 30 supporters at Grace Episcopal Church, 637 S. Dearborn. “This agency has my future in their hands and they’re showing a great amount of negligence.
“I believe that they’re acting this way because of my activism,” she said. “And I’m here, willing to struggle until the end. Not one more deportation.”
Ramirez, a mother of four and grandmother of 10, filed her visa application after she and her grandson were assaulted in her Berwyn home on Feb. 25, 2015; the attackers threw her against a wall and down a stairwell, according to the lawsuit. Her cooperation with Berwyn police made her eligible for a “U-visa,” which is available to victims and witnesses of certain crimes who help investigators.
Ramirez applied for that U-visa in September 2016. Now, nearly a year later, she finds herself facing deportation if she doesn’t receive an expedited visa.
Ramirez came to the United States from Mexico in 2001 on a visa that has long since expired.
Although visas sometimes take up to three years to be approved, Ramirez’s attorney, Mony Ruiz-Velasco, called her client’s delay unnecessary.
“No reason it should take that long especially in cases where people are facing imminent deportation,” Ruiz-Velasco said.
“What we have here is an abuse of power and an abuse of discretion,” she added. “They are really pushing for the separation of families because they are not adjudicating these cases properly as quickly as we would like.”
An ICE spokeswoman said the agency was not able to comment on the lawsuit.
Ramirez’s attorneys also filed letters of support from U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. and state Rep. Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez, a Democrat whose 24th District includes Berwyn; both attended the Aug. 31 meeting at which ICE officials told Ramirez she had to return at the end of September with proof she’d bought a one-way plane ticket out of the country.
“The United States and City of Chicago are no better off if ICE separates Ms. Ramirez from her family,” Schakowsky wrote.
The tone of Hernandez’s letter was similar.
“Ramirez is an important person in our community of Berwyn,” Hernandez wrote. “She is strongly supported by community members, organizations, faith institutions, political leaders and her union, Service Employees International Union.”
Both letters also detail “demeaning behavior” by ICE personnel during her appointment last month.
Ramirez made her announcement alongside the family of Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez, who also faces imminent deportation (he is not related to Genoveva Ramirez).
In May, he sued local ICE officials, including director Ricardo Wong, accusing them of using excessive force and injuring him when he was detained; he remains in custody and is not receiving proper medical care for his injuries, according to his lawsuit. The suit also accused the city and Chicago Police Department of improperly including him in the city’s gang database, which led to him being detained by ICE.
The lawsuit was refiled Sept. 7 to add several police officers as defendants.
Catalan-Ramirez’s wife, Celene Adame, said through a translator that the decision to list her husband in the gang database was based on “physical appearance” and called it a “racial issue.” The suit compared Chicago’s gang database to what it said were similarly controversial databases used in Los Angeles, Denver and Minnesota, which it alleges were scrutinized for targeting African Americans.
Tania Unzueta, a policy director for the advocacy group Mijente, said she’s determined to help Ramirez and Catalan-Ramirez fight against their pending deportations.
“We’re looking at lawsuits, we’re looking at community organizing,” Unzueta said. “We’re looking to get elected officials involved because we really feel at this time we need all the fronts possible because immigration enforcement is basically doing what they want without any accountability, without anyone looking at the way they are treating our families.”