Anabel Barrón Sánchez, co-founder of LOIRA

Anabel Barrón Sánchez is the co-founder and vice president of the Lorain Ohio Immigrant Rights Association and a case worker at El Centro de Servicios Sociales. Sánchez was born in Mexico and came to the United States at nine months old as an undocumented immigrant. Since then, she has been turned away while trying to re-enter the U.S. several times, held in detention by Border Patrol, forced to wear an ankle monitor, and was faced with deportation by U.S. Immigrant and Customs Enforcement. She is a Lorain County community leader advocating for immigrant rights. Sánchez visited Oberlin College last Tuesday to speak on immigration, race, and sanctuary in Ohio.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You used to be fearful of the police due to your undocumented status and would instruct your children to hide from the cops. How did you find the courage to be so visible and vocal on behalf of immigrants?

Because I have lived the life and I know the feeling to be afraid, to live in the shadows. You feel like you don’t have a voice. I fly now. I have been able to come out of the shadows to get involved in my community, to know community leaders and congresspeople. I feel like it is my duty to speak up for the ones that are still in the shadows. That’s where I found my strength, and, of course, in my family. Definitely everything that I do, I do it for my family.

You have had several very scary encounters with Border Patrol and ICE. How do you think those experiences would have differed if they had occurred during the Trump administration?

Definitely I wouldn’t be here if it happened during the Trump administration. Why? Because they are more aggressive. In the past, they were taking discretion in removing people. Now it’s not discretion. Now it’s like, if you’re undocumented, you’re going. So definitely it would be a different story. I wouldn’t be here today.

You mentioned that you moved to Ohio in 1999 because it was known to be immigrant-friendly and that Ohio made you feel at home. Do you think that Ohio and Lorain County continue to earn this reputation?

Yes. And I am taking a deep breath because it cannot change or feel different because of one administration. I have lived in Lorain for the last almost 20 years, and the people still smile at me. People know me now in my community. I am well-known. Ohio is home for me.

What does the Lorain Ohio Immigrant Rights Association hope for the future of Lorain County?

Immigration reform, and not only for Lorain County; we hope for this nationwide. By accomplishing immigration reform, we’ll be able to change a lot of people’s lives. Empower those who are in the shadows.

And again, this is about undocumented immigrants. They are afraid. This is about educating them. This is about telling them that it is OK for them to come out, it is OK for them to be resilient, it is OK for them to raise their voice. We need to start working together. We need to start empowering each other. This is the hope of the vice president of Lorain Ohio Immigrant Rights: that in my years that I have been in this position, I have empowered immigrants to do so.

In what ways can the community help individuals affected by current immigration policies?

If you want to help someone, vote. Go out and vote. I don’t like politics, but I came across the point that all the politics take effect in my life and in everyone’s lives. If you have the luxury to go and vote and you don’t do it, please do so. Because I wish I could vote, and I know one day I will, but right now I cannot make any difference. My job as a community organizer and community activist is to educate those that are more vulnerable, but also as a community activist, my role is to ask for help to those who can vote, to change the policies, to change the administration, to change our lives.