Last December, we brought you the story of three siblings in the city of Bend whose mother was deported to Mexico more than two years ago.
The Tapia children were left in the care of their undocumented grandmother and remain with her today. Their mother, Liliana Ramos, moved to Tijuana – a city she had never lived in and where she knew no one.
Ramos has a routine that she follows every single day.
“Every day, when I first wake up, I thank God for giving me another day. I pray for my children – that all goes well for them, and I look at the weather. I look at the weather here and I look at the weather there,” Ramos says.
When the temperature in Bend, Oregon recently dipped below zero, she sent text messages to each of her children.
“Put on a hat, Brian. When you leave work, bundle up.”
He’s 21 years old, but you never stop being a mom.
Ramos has seen her children just a handful of times since she was deported in September of 2011. She knows that parents of, say, college students in the U.S., may not see their children any more frequently. But, she says, that’s different.
“Because I’m here just waiting for my kids to visit. I can’t go to them,” Ramos says.
Ramos received a deportation order in 2005, after her application for asylum was rejected. She ignored the order until immigration agents found her at work six years later. She was given nine months to leave the country.
During that time, she found a room to rent in Tijuana through a contact at church. She got passports for her children so they could visit her. And she gave custody of her two youngest to her mother.
As she carpooled to the border later that year, Ramos says her sense of loss overwhelmed her.
“I remember the woman drove the whole way because I just wanted to sleep. There’s a sadness when you leave something behind,” Ramos remembers.
That sadness is evident at this joyous-sounding Christmas celebration. Families split by deportation press up against either side of the border fence. They sing to each other through thick iron mesh. Some chat quietly; others cry.
Mari Galvan is here today. She’s a social worker at a shelter in Tijuana that takes in deported women.
“The majority of them arrive suffering emotional shock because they have just been separated from their children, and they don’t know what will happen or when they’ll see them again,” she says.
Galvan says many of the women lose their children to state custody in the U.S. when they are deported; others have time to find a relative or a friend to care for them.
“These are mothers who can’t sleep at night. Because they don’t know if their relative is treating their kids well, or if the friend bathed their kids before putting them to bed or took them to school. They feel totally powerless knowing that no matter how much they love their children, they cannot return to where they are.”
These feelings enveloped Ramos when she arrived. She suffered from anxiety and depression. She developed intestinal problems, which persist today.
Ramos says her faith in God has gotten her through, but it may also be her resilience and her savvy: she landed an accounting job at a fruit and vegetable distributor – despite never having gone to high school and despite being 39 years old.
“If you’re older than 35 years old, here, it’s really hard to get someone to hire you.”
It’s also hard to find a place to live that’s safe and affordable. But Ramos convinced a landlord to rent her a small home in a secure neighborhood for half the going rate.
Ramos says she counts her blessings; she knows she’s the exception among deportees – not the rule.
Twice a month, Ramos drives her old jeep with expired Oregon plates off the main road and into a cement canal. It’s just south of the U.S.-Mexico border.
On this Sunday morning, she and two of her children visiting from Oregon join about a dozen Christian volunteers in feeding hundreds of homeless people the majority of whom were also deported.
As volunteers pass out steaming Styrofoam cups of pozole – Ramos carries a clipboard through the five long lines of men. She wears a stylish black pea coat over skinny jeans. She has a crocheted black headband in her hair and aviator sunglasses.
Ramos asks everyone their name, age and where they’re from. She asks if they’ve been deported, how long ago, do they have children in the U.S. and are they in touch with their families? If she has credit on her phone, she may let them use it to call relatives in the U.S. If they plan to cross the border again, Ramos warns them of the danger.
“I tell them to try to make a life here in Tijuana. I tell them I was also deported, and my kids are in the U.S. They’re surprised. I think it has a strong impact on them because I’m a woman, and I’m alone.”
Back at home on this Sunday afternoon, though, Ramos is not alone. Her son, Brian, is upstairs in the guest bedroom, and her daughter Karleen is watching TV. Ramos says visits from her children give her strength.
“It gives you hope that one day we’ll be together. And this is my hope. Even if it’s not like before. Because my kids are growing up. But at least we’ll be close to each other.”