A framed picture of Liliana "Lily" Ramos with her two girls, Ashely (center) and Karleen (right), sits in her home in Bend, Oregon. She left the picture frame along with her kids, Brian, 19, Ashley, 16, and Karleen, 11, living in Bend with a relative as she was deported Mexico. “No quiero que sufren,” she said. "I don’t want them to suffer."
Lily reaches over her daughter and toward the dog Lily purchased after she was detained and sentenced to her deportation. She heard somewhere that pets help people deal with difficult situations.
Lily felt most worried about leaving her youngest because she senses how difficult the separation will be for her.
Outside the deportation office, Lily recounts her meeting with the immigration officer. Lily had been hopeful of President Obama’s words supporting the possible pardon of 300,000 non-criminal undocumented immigrants. “They said I have to leave the country,” she said. “What Obama said was a lie.”
Friends from Lily’s church surround her in a prayer circle outside the Department of Homeland Security in Portland, Oregon. Lily, originally from Mexico, has been living in the United States for 21 years without proper documentation. After receiving information from her social network that applying for political asylum was a reasonably easier and faster path towards citizenship, she applied for, but was denied political asylum in the U.S. In essence, she turned herself into the authorities.
Lily asked her mother, Micaela, to move from Los Angeles to Bend to watch over her three children. Micaela quickly found a job in Bend working as a hotel maid.
In preparation for her deportation, Lily brings her son Brian to a vocational training program about 200 miles from Bend, Oregon. Lily encouraged Brian to attend the program as it was something to work for while she was in Mexico.
Two months after Lily arrived to Tijuana she drives herself to an immigration lawyer. Unable to pay for the lawyer she hopes the free first consultation will answer pressing questions about when she might be able to return to the U.S. The lawyer will tell Lily that she is unable to start her process of return until her ten-year probation period is over.
Micaela prays for Lily with her grandson, Brian. They are a devout Catholic family, the church has become their support network and safety net.
Lily was able to find a room to stay in Tijuana through her church community. In exchange, she cleans the home. Lily must enter and exit the home quietly, and does not feel comfortable her surroundings.
Lily studies different programs on her computer. "I will never feel whole without my kids," Lily said.
Lily says she does not feel accepted back into Mexico, her birth country. “There are days that I don’t feel like getting out of bed,” she said. “Sometimes I cry like I can’t stop. But, if I cry too much, then I’ll be broken and won’t be able to move on. I have to be strong for my kids.”
Ashley sits in her school cafeteria on the last day before winter vacation. This will be the first Christmas Lily is not with her kids in Bend, Oregon.