His Only Crime Was Reuniting With His Family

Susan Ramos (seated, center) and her three children.  (National Journal)

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.


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