Anuar and Elsiy Lara pose with their picture in the local paper, while dad Jesus looks on (Lynn Tramonte, 7/8/2017)

Canvassing in Small-Town Ohio to Stop a Father’s Deportation

Downtown Willard, OH — population 6,000 — is normally pretty quiet on a Saturday, with many businesses closed. But today there was Latin music blaring from a church fundraiser at one corner of S. Myrtle Avenue. At the other end, the four Lara children — six year-old Elsiy, nine year-old Anuar, eleven year-old Edwin, and almost-fourteen Eric were buzzing around like bees, carrying bags of Pepperidge Farm cookies and official-looking clipboards.

They were looking for people to sign a petition in support of their dad, Jesus Lara, who is facing deportation in just one week. Jesus Lara is facing deportation after living in the United States for more than 15 years, buying a home in Willard, paying taxes, and raising a strong family. He was abruptly told to pack his bags after years of complying with the Order of Supervision placed on him by the Obama Administration, showing up for annual appointments and maintaining a clean record.

This is because the Trump Administration has decided to deport anyone and everyone they can, so even people who regularly attend their ICE check-in appointments, have legal work permits, and do everything the government asks of them are seeing their worlds turned upside-down overnight.

For people like Jesus this means banishment from their homes, yes, but also their children’s daily lives. This is a close-knit family, and Jesus’ children have been doing brave and difficult things to try to keep their father in Willard with them.

The cookies the Lara kids carried around Willard were an offering: packed by Jesus during his night shift job, purchased with his own money, a gesture of goodwill and thanks. The clipboards contained the blank petitions addressed to U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, asking him to do everything in his power to keep their family together.

Edwin Lara asks friends from school to sign the petition for his dad, Jesus Lara (Lynn Tramonte, 7/8/2017)

On the same day that the Lara children and their supporters stood outside of the library, post office, and S. Myrtle street stores to gather signatures in support of Jesus, the Norwalk Reflector ran two front-page articles about his deportation battle from the perspective of his four U.S. citizen children.

The paper reported that so far Rep. Gibbs’ office has refused to comment about the case — despite hundreds of phone calls and tens of thousands of people who already signed Eric Lara’s petition asking him to do so. Specifically, Gibbs’ Communications Director Dallas Gerber told the Reflector: “We cannot comment on any pending casework our office may or may not be working on.”

That’s Washington-speak, Mr. Gibbs: lot of words that don’t add up to a whole lot. Meanwhile, Jesus is running out of time. That is why we canvassed in Willard this Saturday. It’s why people drove two hours from other parts of Ohio to help.

Jesus’ brother, also named Anuar, staked out a spot outside La Perlita and signed up supporters. Jesus himself set up camp right in front of the Sav-A-Lot, with a friendly smile on his face. People going in and out of the store recognized him from the newspaper. Some had already signed the online petition, or read about his story on the Internet. Most people were curious and kind. Some were hostile.

Jesus Lara and Lupe Williams gather petition signatures outside the Sav-A-Lot in Willard, Ohio, while Elsiy entertains passersby (Lynn Tramonte, 7/8/2017)

Standing outside a gas station with Jesus’ daughter Elsiy, I got an earful from a man who said “Everything Trump is doing is right.” It was just too much, as I was looking down at this little girl who may be about to lose her father and best friend. I’ll admit it, I got angry. I argued back. And then I cried. Elsiy wrapped her arms around me and said: “Don’t worry, I know how you feel. I get sad too.” The incredibleness of it all — this little girl trying to console me while it’s her family facing an uncertain future — was overwhelming.

What happened next was also overwhelming. The gas station attendant came out and apologized for the customer’s behavior. He signed our petition and then offered to gather even more signatures for us, stating that he grew up without a dad and he didn’t want anyone else to go through that. And he followed through — he just texted me his completed sheet.

It was like this all day. One ugly interaction, matched by exponentially more beautiful acts of kindness. Walking up to someone, you never knew what you were going to get. People had a lot of questions. Some seemed to support Trump’s stance on immigration, but when they looked into the eyes of this loving father, they agreed to support him.

One woman, her own four children in tow, bought the family ice-cold bottles of water when she saw them standing in the sun. We talked and she told me she was shopping at Sav-A-Lot on food stamps, but she wanted to help and this is what she could do, in addition to putting her signature on our growing list.

We still have completed sheets coming in from volunteers, so I don’t want to give a final number yet for the canvass today in Willard, Ohio. But I will say that we exceeded my expectations. We will add these hundreds of local names to the 34,000 people who have already signed the petition online, and give them to Rep. Gibbs later this week. (Update: we gathered 380 signatures from Willard-area residents this day.)

The Lara children and Jesus get ready for a day of canvassing, outside Church of God of Prophecy in Willard, Ohio (Lynn Tramonte, 7/8/2017)

Jesus’ deportation flight is set for July 18 in the early morning. We only have a few days left to turn this tragic situation around. Please sign and share the petition from Eric, Jesus’ eldest son, so that Rep. Bob Gibbs uses the power he has in Washington to tell the Trump Administration to keep this loving American family together.