The other status: Dating while undocumented

Almost a year ago, I interviewed Matias Ramos for an article about the impending DREAM Act vote. Since that time, that vote failed and Ramos continued to fight deportation. Last week, he received another stay of his standing deportation order, allowing him to remain in the United States at least through March 2010 and buying him time for the Obama Administration review of low-priority deportations that is currently underway.

Ramos credits the more than 7,000 people who signed a petition on his behalf, as well as the many people who called Immigration and Customs Enforcement asking that he be allowed to stay and continue his work.

“It has a huge positive impact … in as far as I’m able to bring attention to the issue.” Ramos said. “It’s not just me against the government; my removal would have an impact on other people’s lives.”

Many undocumented youth and immigration reform leaders spoke up on Ramos’ behalf, as he is a powerful voice for immigration reform.

But another life that would be seriously impacted by his removal is that of his American girlfriend, Lindsay McCluskey. McCluskey has been with Ramos since before he was detained at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in Feb. 2010, setting the deportation in motion. Ramos was detained at the airport after attending a historic meeting of undocumented youth in Minneapolis, though he had been public about his status for years. (He was flagged by TSA because of the ID he presented at the airport.)

“There is a whole community of people who feel it’s their self interest to not have him deported,” McCluskey said. “He’s changed me a lot in that regard. I didn’t used to see the struggle of undocumented youth as my struggle at all.”

McCluskey is a fellow activist and recent vice president of the U.S. Student Association. The two met in Aug. 2009 at Trivia Night at a D.C. bar, though Ramos’ reputation proceeded him.

“I knew about Matias before I actually knew him,” McCluskey said.

Of couse, he knew about her as well … they had met a few months prior, but McCluskey had forgotrten about it.

McCluskey separates their relationship into two periods: pre-work permit and post work permit. Ironically, it was only after Ramos was deported that he was given work authorization. There was a financial strain on their relationship at first, because Ramos did not have full-time work. Now that he is legally working as a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, they have a nicer apartment and more equitable date nights.

But there are still constant reminders of Ramos’ complicated relationship with the U.S. government. At a recent lunch at a diner with friends, Ramos took a phone call and came back to the table to announce that ICE just called to say he needed to buy a plane ticket to Buenos Aires by October 4. He paused and then delivered the punchline: they didn’t say what year though.

McCluskey also accompanied Ramos to a check-in with ICE on Sept. 13. After the check-in, an agent sent them down the block to another office, telling them only that it was an outfit that ran a program for ICE and that they were expected in a few minutes. When the couple walked into the office they looked around the packed waiting room and saw that everyone was wearing an ankle bracelet. Ramos left with one himself, walking out with his American girlfriend, feeling the shame of having to plug his leg in for three hours a day.

“It was disgusting having it on,” Ramos said.  When the batteries run low, the device beeps and then actually says: “charge your battery now.” B.I. Inc., a subsidiary of GEO Group, one of the largest private prison contractors in the country, provides “community based monitoring” for ICE.

Ramos’ attorney mentioned his American girlfriend in appealing the deportation order, to demonstrate that he has strong ties to the United States. The two have discussed marriage; Ramos could likely adjust his status in the U.S. if he married an American because he originally entered at 13 years of age, on the visa waiver program, essentially as a tourist from Argentina. But Ramos also hoped for the Dream Act to pass, conveying him legal status, or to have his case put aside after administrative review. And McCluskey never felt he needed her to get a green card.

“I’ve never felt that it was my job and Matias has never put pressure on me to do anything for his case,” she said. “For him it’s more than about his case. It’s about the relationship of undocumented people to the U.S.”

She means the official, legal relationship. But she could just as well be referring to the relationship between Americans and the undocumented people we encounter every day. Or to her relationship with an undocumented man, which has grown deeper through the stress of the deportation proceedings. Either way, the point is neither is alone—the relationship between America and the undocumented in her midst grows more and more intertwined every day.

As Ramos told me last year, on being public about being undocumented: “First you feel all alone, then you feel like other people have your back.”

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: