Gun store sign

Jorgé is an American citizen, but this doesn’t mean he’s unaware of how cold and demanding some gringos from the middle of Ohio can be.

Jorgé, who asked not to use his real name, told the Freep he works for FedEx but said “they are not taking this COVID thing seriously.” He has asthma so “I’m not going in.”

Jorgé’s landlord told him and his roommates rent was due on April 1st. Knowing his tenants may not make rent, this Grove City landlord said they could set up a payment plan – but only after they provide bank statements, a letter from their employer saying they were laid off, documentation they are not receiving any government assistance, and agree to a credit check.

“As for that part, we told him no one is going to be able to do that for you,” said the 20-something who’s active with local left-leaning progressive groups. “These people are more concerned for their investors than the people they build their livelihoods on.”

It’s one thing to be 20-something and white in conservative-leaning Ohio (Trump land) during the pandemic – than 20-something and Hispanic. Then take that a step further: Hispanic and undocumented.

Many work in the service sector or the gig economy, both getting pummeled by the pandemic. Racism is always lurking. Worse, family and friends could be snatched-up anywhere at any time by ICE and sent to a federal prison for potential deportation. What’s more, Ohio is home to several massive poultry and pork rendering plants that have been raided by ICE and always under threat to be raided.

And now comes a nightmare of a virus, as if being racially profiled while providing our children chicken nuggets wasn’t bad enough.

“It’s hypocritical and immoral for us to benefit from immigrants’ hard work while keeping them in constant fear of deportation,” said Lynn Tramonte, Director of the Ohio Immigrant Alliance. “Undocumented immigrants were excluded from the CARES act, of course, so they are working hard but not getting any payments other Americans are getting.” 

You don’t have to tell our Hispanic community – both citizens and undocumented – how difficult Ohio and Central Ohio can be to live a decent life and raise a family. Indeed, in 2015 the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research ranked Ohio dead lastwhen it comes to public policies and laws that support the health and well-being of undocumented immigrants.

Try to imagine being an undocumented immigrant who is ill and wondering if they are infected. If they were to seek institutionalized healthcare, they are choosing survival and possible deportation, over tough it out and flirt with death.

“They are absolutely afraid to go to the hospital,” said Tramonte. “Even children have been arrested on their way to hospitals and about to get surgeries.”

Tramonte says in many ways Ohio is akin to a police state for immigrants. Over the previous decade there was an influx of federal funding that paid for new border patrol stations all over Ohio. Border patrol stations? To keep all those evil Canadians out of the Buckeye State? Not in the least. The stations work with state troopers and local law enforcement to hunt down undocumenteds at their place of work and at home in Ohio’s big and small cities alike.

Tramonte says Ohio has been a hotbed of aggressive immigration enforcement. In part by who runs the ICE field office in Detroit, Rebecca Adducci, who seems to relish having her officers make “gratuitous deportations.”

And now that the virus is rampant in too many of our prisons and detention facilities, Tramonte has urged Gov. DeWine in a letter to suspend deportations and immigration arrests.

“Does it really make sense to detain an immigrant while he is going through his court process to potentially win his case,” she said.

Ohio has two ICE detention centers, one in Butler County north of Cincinnati and the other in Morrow County near Mount Gilead. Because she has been in contact with family members of the detained, she’s well aware of what’s going on inside.

“There’s no oversight in that (Morrow County) jail. Because it’s in a remote part of the state and it’s pretty small, they are operating with zero scrutiny,” she says. “They haven’t had soap in that jail since I’ve known people going there. You had to buy your own soap. They finally got soap a couple of weeks ago that’s for free, but it’s watered down. The place is filthy.”

Back in Columbus on the far west side across from the closed Hollywood Casino, is an aging run-down shopping plaza with a pockmarked parking lot. Even so, there are plenty of cars there for the two establishments still in business: a gun store and a very respectable Mexican-owned grocery store. Both are deemed essential, but it took pressure from the Trump administrationto keep gun sales soaring.

This plaza is America in the 21st century and beyond. Polar opposites just enough feet away. The two distinct groups of people who go to their respective store in this dilapidated plaza were already social distancing years ago.

We have to ask, who’s more afraid of whom? Those who shop at the Mexican grocery store or the gun-lovers who tote around their high-powered rifles in public?

When a Freep reporter asked some of the shoppers at Mexican grocery store what they thought of their gun store neighbors the conversation quickly ended and they refused to talk about it.

Lynn Tramonte