Pedro Hernandez-Ramirez climbed the steps of his West River Road South home late Friday evening and as his 24-year-old stepson, Juan Pino, was wheeled onto the front porch, Hernandez stopped short in front of the wheelchair, kneeled down and removed the young man’s shoes.
He replaced them with his own shoes and then handed his car keys to Pino, who has severe cerebral palsy and needs around-the-clock care. It’s a ritual the two started several years ago.
“Juan always hits Pedro up for his shoes, shirt, keys and cell phone whenever he walks through the door. I don’t know what it is, but he wants to be just like Pedro,” said Hernandez’s wife, Seleste Wisniewski.
It was a scene that played out after Hernandez was released from the Geauga County Jail on Friday afternoon.
The 42-year-old Elyria man, who faced imminent deportation because of his undocumented status, will get to stay in the country temporarily.
“I’m happy, very happy,” Hernandez said as Wisniewski translated.
According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Khaalid Walls, after conducting a further review of Hernandez’s case, ICE granted him a one-year stay of removal.
The decision was handed down Friday morning roughly 24 hours after his wife made the family’s story public and pleaded for her husband to stay in the country. She and her four children, including Hernandez’s biological 5-year-old son, are American citizen.
Hernandez illegally entered the country in 2001 from Mexico, where he was a firefighter, but was desperate to find a better paying job.
Immigration attorney David Leopold said he does not know if the publicity and subsequent media coverage in newspaper and television reports as well as Spanish publications made any difference in the case. A petition on Americasvoiceonline.org that was set up in hopes of stopping the deportation also garnered more than 7,000 signatures in 24 hours.
“I can’t say it was the publicity, but the outpouring of love and support this devoted father received is just evident that people feel very strongly about immigration reform in this country,” Leopold said. “But what really made a difference were the facts of this case. Granting his stay was the right thing to do.”
Leopold applied for the stay arguing compassion and smart immigration enforcement should be used as Hernandez has a clean criminal record, is married to an American, has a child who is an American citizen and is the primary caregiver of a severely mentally and physically handicapped person.
“This is the news we have been hoping for,” Leopold said. “Pedro wanted nothing more than to return to his family and pursue what he has always wanted and that is to become an American citizen.”
In the next year while Hernandez is savoring his time with his family, helping to care for 24-year-old Juan, being the overprotective stepfather to 16-year-old Stephanie and relishing in his son’s first year of school, Leopold said he hopes steps will be taken on the federal level to help pave the way for citizenship for millions of people like Hernandez.
“While this family’s terrible ordeal has a happy ending, at least for now, I wonder how many more American families will be torn apart before Congress finally does its job and sends President (Barack) Obama a comprehensive immigration reform bill, including a road to citizenship for aspiring Americans like Pedro Hernandez, that he can sign into law,” he said. “The Hernandez family and Americans deserve an immigration system that keeps them safe and together.”
At last count, there were 11 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S., according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Emotionally, Friday was kind of up and down for Wisniewski.
She learned early in the morning her husband had been granted the temporary stay. Yet, when she arrived at the Geauga County jail, her husband was not immediately released. As the day dragged on, the mother of four said she had to keep faith that her husband would return home.
“So many people around the country cared about us and they didn’t have to,” she said. “I will never forget that.”
Wisniewski said she could not thank everyone enough, including those who wrote letters, signed the petition and even ICE for taking another look at her husband’s case.
“Everyone pulling together in this little war I’m fighting made it possible for me to win this battle,” she said. “The Pathway to Citizen Bill has to pass. No other family should experience what we did. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”
When asked what he wanted to do most with his family or around his home, Hernandez-Ramirez said, “no kind of chore matters at this moment.”
“I just want to spend time with my family,” he said.
He looked over his front yard and added, “I have to cut the grass.”