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Days Before His Deportation, Jesus Manuel Lara Lopez Can Only Pray

From left to right: Anuar, 10, Edwin, 11, Jesus with Elsiy, age 6, Eric, 13.
From left to right: Anuar, 10, Edwin, 11, Jesus with Elsiy, age 6, Eric, 13.

Jesus Manuel Lara Lopez watches his four young kids play basketball in the backyard of his home in Willard, Ohio. His mind, though, is elsewhere.

Under President Trump, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has new orders. Instead of just deporting people who've committed a serious crime, they're seeking out anyone who's living in the country illegally.

Lara is scheduled to be deported Tuesday.

"I need to get a little extra money to pay the mortgage, the car and the other bills," Lara says in Spanish.

When I visited, his deportation was only a week away and without his salary, his wife can't afford to make these payments.

This is the life he's built for himself and his family, and it's about to change.

Man Of The House

Lara has tried to keep things as normal as possible.

"We go out and play, we go to church, and we spend time together eating out," Lara says. "It's still the same routine."

He still works nights at a packaging warehouse, and spends his days with his kids. His youngest is six and doesn't understand what's going on.

His oldest, Eric, is 13, and wonders how he'll help care for his siblings

"It's kinds of serious if I be the man of the house, I mean I don't know how to cook," Eric says. "I don't know how to feed them."

Eric and his siblings were all born in the U.S. and will all stay here. It could be many years before their dad can return. 

"For me, right now, I'm just thinking about my dad," Eric says.

Lara came to Ohio two decades ago—not long after crossing the border into the U.S. Like many Latino immigrants, he found plenty of work in this small agricultural town, working in the fields and at a landscaping business.

Then in 2008, he was pulled over for a minor traffic violation and charged for driving without a license--in Ohio you cannot obtain a license if you are undocumented. He was given an order of  deportation in 2008 but he appealed and was allowed to stay and work.

In 2011, he lost his appeal, but under the Obama administration, his clean criminal record made him a low priority for deportation. He was given permission to remain and work. But in May, at his annual check-in with ICE, agents gave him an ankle monitor and told him he would be deported.

Early Tuesday morning, just two months after that meeting, a flight will take him to Mexico City. 

"Good Families Like This"

President Trump's change to ICE policies has Lara, and others in town, feeling confused and even betrayed.

"He said he was going to deport criminals, and what happened to that?" Lara says.

Lara's neighbor Jennifer Fidler wonders the same thing.

"Well, I have gone to church with them, usually when they have a cookout, they bring me a plate of food," Fidler says.

Neighbor Jennifer Fidler, who voted for Trump, says she hates to see a "good family" like the Laras be torn apart.
Credit Esther Honig
Neighbor Jennifer Fidler, who voted for Trump, says she hates to see a "good family" like the Laras be torn apart.

Fidler, a single mother who works at a local factory building snow blowers, met the Laras shortly after they moved in. She says that, like a majority of people in this Ohio county, she supported Trump for president. But now she's not so sure.

"Wasn't he supposed to deport the people who aren't so great?" Fidler says. "The drug dealers, rapists murders all them? Then he turns it around and takes good families like this."

Now Fidler is one of several people on this block advocating for Lara. Together with members of his church, his employers and even his kid's teachers, they've written letters to their Congressmen and state representatives urging them to let Lara stay.

"Everybody knows that I'm fighting for my neighbors, that I'm standing up for them," Fidler says.

In the last few weeks, the Laras have gone around Willard collecting some 600 signatures for a petition. A national organization helped collect around 35,000.

Lara's lawyer has submitted multiple appeals to court. There's still a chance that in these finals hours, a judge could grant him a temporary stay from deportation. That's what Lara is praying for.

"Confiendo En Dios"    

The Friday before he's set to be deported, I check in with Lara to see how his week's been.

Lara tells me things are still the same. He's still working, still spending his days with his kids. Every Sunday, the family goes to church, and maybe this week they'll go out for a nice meal.

He tells me he still hasn't packed a suitcase. 

"Yo estoy confidendo en Dios," Lara says. He's put his faith in God.

He hopes by some miracle, he'll be allowed to stay.

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