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Deported Mother from Oregon Makes New Life in Mexico Without Her Kids

When Liliana Ramos was deported to Mexico more than two years ago, her three children were left behind in Bend, Oregon. The Tapia children were left in the care of their undocumented grandmother and remain with her today.

Ramos moved to Tijuana, a city she had never lived in and where she knew no one.

‘I’m Here, Just Waiting For My Kids To Visit’

In her new life, 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,” she said. “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.”

When the temperature in Bend recently dipped below zero, she sent text messages to each of her children, telling them to bundle up and keep warm.

Ramos has seen her children just a handful of times since she was deported in September 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,” she said.

‘These Are Mothers Who Can’t Sleep At Night’

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,” she said.

That sadness was evident at a recent joyous-sounding Christmas celebration. Families split by deportation pressed up against either side of the border fence. They sang to each other through thick iron mesh. Some chatted quietly; others cried. 

Among those gathered was Mari Galvan, 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 said.

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,” said Galvan. “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,” said Ramos.

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 —not the rule — among deportees.

‘It Gives You Hope That One Day We’ll Be Together’

Twice a month, Ramos drives her old jeep with expired Oregon plates off the main road and into a cement canal just south of the U.S.-Mexico border.

On a recent Sunday morning, she and two of her children visiting from Oregon joined about a dozen Christian volunteers in feeding hundreds of homeless people, the majority of whom were also deported. 

As volunteers passed out steaming Styrofoam cups of pozole, Ramos carried a clipboard through the five long lines of men. She asked everyone their name, age and where they’re from. She asked if they’ve been deported, how long ago, whether they have children in the U.S. and if they’re in touch with their families.

During these meetings, if she has credit on her phone, she sometimes lets 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,” she said.

Back at home on the same Sunday afternoon, though, Ramos was not alone. Her son, Brian, was upstairs in the guest bedroom, and her daughter, Karleen, sat, 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,” she said. “Even if it’s not like before, because my kids are growing up. But at least we’ll be close to each other.”


Editor’s Note: Jordana Gustafson is a reporter for Oregon Public Broadcasting. She filed this two-part series as part of a fellowship with the Institute for Justice and Journalism. The first installment, which ran on Thursday, documented the lives of Liliana Ramos' children in Bend, Oregon.