Maybe it’s best to start with this: Leonor Garcia came to the United States from Mexico illegally when she was 15. Now 41, she’s lived here ever since.
During that time, she’s moved from California to Florida to Ohio. She’s worked at McDonald’s, as a janitor at a mall and in a factory that makes windows. She’s fallen in love, bought a house and had children. She’s volunteered in the community and tried to help others as she’s moved along.
None of that has been easy. But Leonor has found a way — even after her partner, Jose, was deported in 2011, even when she was nearly sent back to Mexico with him, even as her kids were left without a father and even now as shifting political winds threaten her again.
In August, during her routine check-in with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Leonor was told she had two weeks to leave the country voluntarily or she would be arrested and removed. That’s not much time to plan anything, let alone to reassemble a life built over more than 25 years in this country.
So rather than leave her family, Leonor took up sanctuary in a small apartment on the second floor of Forest Hill Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights. That’s where associate editor Sheehan Hannan picks up this month’s feature, “Leonor’s Choice.”
In some ways, the title is a misnomer. None of Leonor’s choices seem like good ones. But that’s also where her power lies. Because while some may call her undocumented or illegal, Leonor is most importantly a mother — to four U.S. citizens — who is attempting to give them an opportunity for success. It’s something her mother, grandmother and her uncle sacrificed to give her. It’s also the legacy that this country is built on.
The church is about 50 minutes away from Leonor’s Akron home, where her 19-year-old daughter has put her college dreams on hold to help care for her brothers. Leonor only sees her kids on weekends when volunteers bring them to stay with her. But even then, it’s tough. Their lives have been disrupted, creating fear and stress — even for her youngest sons who hardly understand it all.
“I don’t get it,” says Veronica Dahlberg of advocacy group Hola Ohio. “We need people like her. How are we going to benefit by putting her through this?”