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His Only Crime Was Reuniting With His Family

Susan Ramos (seated, center) and her three children. 
National Journal
Susan Ramos
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Susan Ramos
March 19, 2014, 7:57 a.m.

Susan Ramos, 39, is a fact­ory work­er and a moth­er of three who lives in Ment­or, Ohio. She is also the ex-wife of Al­fredo Ramos, a Mex­ic­an na­tion­al who has lived, worked, and raised a fam­ily in the United States for two dec­ades. Since a Feb­ru­ary traffic stop, Al­fredo Ramos, 40, has been held in a fed­er­al de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity and now faces jail time, de­port­a­tion, and a life­time ban from the United States.

Last week, a fed­er­al grand jury re­turned an in­dict­ment against Al­fredo, and he is set to make his first crim­in­al court ap­pear­ance this Thursday, March 20 in Erie, Pa.

Susan and Al­fredo’s fam­ily is one of the es­tim­ated 16.5 mil­lion mixed-status Amer­ic­an fam­il­ies made up of cit­izens, doc­u­mented, and un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants trapped between the wait for im­mig­ra­tion policy re­form and the prac­tices of law-en­force­ment agen­cies. Pres­id­ent Obama has re­peatedly called on the na­tion’s im­mig­ra­tion-en­force­ment of­ficers to fo­cus de­port­a­tion ef­forts on un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants with ser­i­ous crim­in­al re­cords. However, in­creas­ingly small shares of the un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants de­por­ted each year meet this cri­terion.

Last week, Obama ordered the en­force­ment agen­cies to re­view their policies and pro­ced­ures in the in­terest of cre­at­ing what the White House de­scribed as “more hu­mane” prac­tices. Susan Ramos talked with Next Amer­ica about her ex­per­i­ence with the na­tion’s tangled im­mig­ra­tion policy.

I was a single mom and an Amer­ic­an cit­izen born and raised in Ohio when I met Al­fredo. He had been liv­ing and work­ing in Paines­ville, Ohio, for about 10 years and came in­to my life when I needed him most. He stepped up, be­came a fath­er fig­ure to my old­est son, and helped me learn how to be a strong wo­man and role mod­el for my fam­ily. We even­tu­ally mar­ried, and these were some of the best years for us as a fam­ily.

But all that changed about 15 years ago, when I re­ceived a call from Im­mig­ra­tions and Cus­toms En­force­ment that I’ll nev­er for­get. Al­fredo was be­ing de­por­ted back to Mex­ico. We had no idea how or when we’d see each oth­er again. I was nine months preg­nant with our first child when he was de­por­ted. I begged him to come back, but our son Cris­ti­an was born without his fath­er present. And so Al­fredo came back to be with his fam­ily the only way he could — by cross­ing the bor­der without au­thor­iz­a­tion and re­turn­ing to Ohio.

The next sev­er­al years were dif­fi­cult for us and our fam­ily. Our daugh­ter Di­ona was born, and she was very close to her dad. Al­fredo lived in con­stant fear of get­ting picked up by ICE and sep­ar­ated from his chil­dren. Be­cause of his status, he struggled to find a steady, good-pay­ing job, but even­tu­ally found one in a loc­al fact­ory. I as­sumed the role of primary pro­vider. Still, the fin­an­cial and emo­tion­al strain placed a heavy bur­den on all of us and ul­ti­mately led to our di­vorce.

Des­pite our sep­ar­a­tion, we found a way to hold our fam­ily to­geth­er, and Al­fredo re­mained a con­stant and act­ive fath­er in our chil­dren’s lives. His child-sup­port pay­ments helped me take care of the kids. He was also there for me and the kids whenev­er I would suf­fer the de­bil­it­at­ing symp­toms of dia­betes. There were times when I was of­ten too weak to even open a door. On those days, with just one phone call he would pick up the kids and care for them, un­con­di­tion­ally.

Our lives were turned up­side down once again last month. On Feb. 8, 2014, Al­fredo was on the way to the mall with our daugh­ter and an­oth­er fam­ily mem­ber when their car was stopped by the Ment­or po­lice. Even though Al­fredo was only a pas­sen­ger in the car, he was ques­tioned about his im­mig­ra­tion status. The of­ficer called Bor­der Patrol, and Al­fredo was taken away in hand­cuffs in front of our 11-year-old daugh­ter.

For over a month now, Al­fredo has been held in a de­ten­tion cell in Erie, Pa., where he is locked in 23 hours a day. Most up­set­ting: A grand jury has in­dicted him for “il­leg­al reentry,” a fed­er­al felony, and put him, once again, in the po­s­i­tion of be­ing ripped away from his fam­ily. I am stunned that the U.S. at­tor­ney, Dav­id J. Hick­ton, has de­cided to go after Al­fredo of all people, a mod­el mem­ber of this com­munity and fath­er, in­stead of go­ing after dan­ger­ous crim­in­als who pose a real threat in our com­munit­ies. Al­fredo has no crim­in­al re­cord. Ap­par­ently for Mr. Hick­ton, the lack of im­mig­ra­tion re­form means his of­fice can en­gage in a free-for-all and tar­get fam­il­ies like mine.

What the U.S. at­tor­ney fails to real­ize is that go­ing after Al­fredo means go­ing after our en­tire fam­ily. It means my kids are faced with the pro­spect of life without their fath­er, and it means I am faced with the pro­spect of los­ing fin­an­cial and emo­tion­al sup­port for my chil­dren, and the shared par­ent­ing we do for the be­ne­fit our chil­dren’s fu­ture.

Every day, I try to ex­plain to my kids why their fath­er isn’t here and when he’ll be back, if ever. Every day, I struggle with a budget that is tight­en­ing without his sup­port. And many days, it’s even hard to muster up the en­ergy for ba­sic tasks, let alone rais­ing our chil­dren on my own without his sup­port. I don’t know how to ex­plain to them that their won­der­ful fath­er — who came here to find a bet­ter life for his famil — might not be around for fu­ture birth­days, hol­i­days, or to see them grow up.

There’s ab­so­lutely noth­ing “just” about our justice sys­tem. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is soon to make his­tory by de­port­ing its 2-mil­lionth im­mig­rant, and I can’t help but think about all the oth­er fam­il­ies out there who are go­ing through the ex­act same situ­ation as us.

My ques­tion to the ad­min­is­tra­tion is this: Who be­ne­fits when fam­il­ies get ripped apart and when U.S. chil­dren are forced to grow up without a fath­er? Our gov­ern­ment needs to stop pun­ish­ing its own cit­izens by go­ing after im­mig­rants, like Al­fredo, whose only real crime was try­ing to re­unite with his fam­ily.

I’m plead­ing with U.S. At­tor­ney Dav­id J. Hick­ton and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to please let my ex-hus­band re­turn to his fam­ily. Let him re­unite with us and con­tin­ue to be the mod­el as­pir­ing cit­izen he’s al­ways been.

Susan Ramos is the ex-wife of Al­fredo Ramos, a 24-year Ohio res­id­ent, who is cur­rently be­ing held in de­ten­tion and pro­sec­uted for “il­leg­al reentry” by the re­gion’s U.S. at­tor­ney.

‘MY VIEW’ OF THE NEXT AMER­ICAS

Are you part of the demo­graph­ic that is the Next Amer­ica? Are you a cata­lyst who fosters change for the next gen­er­a­tion? Or do you know someone who is? The Next Amer­ica wel­comes first-per­son per­spect­ives from act­iv­ists, thought lead­ers, and people rep­res­ent­at­ive of a di­verse na­tion. Email Jan­ell Ross at jross@na­tion­al­journ­al.com. And please fol­low us on Twit­ter and Face­book.

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