ELYRIA — Pedro Hernandez-Ramirez, who lives in Elyria, is a lot of things to a lot of people.
He’s the 42-year-old husband to Seleste Wisniewski, a loving father to Jessica, Juan, Stephanie and Luis-Angel, and the primary caretaker for his family.
He is also one of the country’s thousands of undocumented immigrants. Because of that, he’s in the Geauga County Jail and in danger of deportation.
Hernandez has been in jail since July 6, when agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement picked him up and charged him with a felony count of illegal entry into the country after deportation.
He was first sent to a holding facility in Youngstown and has since been taken to Geauga County after a judge used discretion in dismissing the charge.
But agents were waiting for him again when he was released.
Now, his family is hoping for compassion and Hernandez’s return to Elyria. They have been told that just because the felony charges have been dropped doesn’t mean the father of four can stay.
“I need my husband home. He is our lifeline, and we are lost without him,” Wisniewski said from her West River Road South home.
Attorney David Leopold, a seasoned immigration attorney, said Hernandez’s case is not uncommon.
“This is an Elyria family, but there are families like this all over Elyria, Lorain County and America,” he said. “This American family is very typical of what you will find. This family is what is broken about immigration in this country.”
At last count, the Department of Homeland Security estimated there were more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
Federal immigration reform legislation talked about earlier this year has stalled in the Republican-led House of Representative, leaving thousands of families in limbo.
Leopold filed a motion of stay Wednesday believing, based on federal policies, that Hernandez should be granted deferred action so that he can remain in the U.S.
He cited a June 2011 memo from ICE Director John Morton that details certain criteria the agency should use to allow for discretion in deportation cases including length of residence in the U.S., marital status to a U.S. citizen, whether the person is the parent of a U.S. citizen and/or the primary caretaker of a person with a mental or physical disability.
“Pedro is exactly the person we should want in this country,” Leopold said.
Leopold explained Hernandez’s story like this:
Henandez first came to this country from Mexico sometime before 2001. He doesn’t know exactly when because there is no paper trail documenting his illegal entry. Hernandez first popped up on law enforcement radar when he was accused of theft in 2001. The case was eventually dropped when it was learned Hernandez was not the culprit. During the arrest, he showed police a phony driver’s license. “Like a lot of undocumented workers do,” Leopold said.
It was enough to get him deported.
Within a year, Hernandez made the it back into the country. In 2004, he met Wisniewski, then a single mother of three caring for two young daughters and a son with severe cerebral palsy.
Looking back on those early days, Wisniewski smiled — Hernandez was nice, humble, but persistent, she said. They met at a party of a mutual friend.
“I told him he didn’t want to be with me. I had a lot going on,” she said. “But he just said ‘Let’s just go out and see how it goes.’”
Friendship turned into romance. Wisniewski knew Hernandez was a keeper for how he dealt with her son, who needs round-the-clock care.
“He never turned away from Juan. From the very beginning, he was there for all of us,” she said.
Stephanie, now 16, said Hernandez is her dad, but like so many other teenagers, he annoyed her sometimes.
“He would take my phone away at night and tell me to sleep or bug me until I would get up so I wouldn’t be late for band practice or school. He was just always there,” she said. “Now, I kinda miss him yelling at me. He is the glue that holds this family together.”
Hernandez’s recent troubles started in April. Leopold said.
He was pulled over by a Highway Patrol trooper for a missing license-plate light. A check of his background pulled up the decade’s old deportation order.
Hernandez was arrested and soon sent back to Mexico.
“We learned he was gone because another inmate in the jail called us to say they took him,” Stephanie said. “It was days before I talked to my dad again, and all he said was he was in a very dangerous part of Mexico and he was scared.”
Leopold said Hernandez would call his wife as much as he could and listen helplessly as she talked about how she was struggling. Five years ago, the couple had a child together, Luis-Angel.
On the advice of a lawyer who told her Hernandez’s quest for citizenship could be sped up if the couple legally married, Wisniewski said she went to Mexico and she and Hernandez were wed in a small ceremony in Acapulco. But it wasn’t enough. They were told it would be years before Hernandez could legally enter the country.
Wisniewski said her family didn’t have years. Hernandez walked back into the family’s Elyria home on June 25.
He was gone again less than two weeks later.
“Agents arrested him a block from his home with his son and stepdaughter in the car,” Leopold said. “She ran home to tell her mother her dad was gone. They were waiting for him.”
A petition on Americasvoiceonline.org has been set up in hopes of stopping Hernandez’s deportation.
ICE area spokesman Khaalid Walls did not return calls or emails asking for comment.