Editor’s note: The following article is being published anonymously; the author’s name and the names of others have been changed to protect them from possible repercussions from the federal government. HuffPost Personal has made an exception in this case to its policy on anonymous bylines because we feel this is an important story to help readers understand the consequences of immigration policy at this time.
I met my boyfriend, Javier, three years ago. I saw him from across the bar where we both were, and I knew I had to introduce myself. He was so handsome, and even in the dark of the dimly lit room, his deep brown eyes pierced mine as we attempted to communicate.
I quickly discovered Javier did not speak English very well. Through hand gestures and the bits of English he understood, I learned he had moved just six months earlier from Mexico to my small Midwestern town. He primarily spoke Spanish and was doing his best to learn a new language in a country that was completely foreign to him. I knew some Spanish from taking classes in high school but I hadn’t used it in a long time. I had never even met someone that was from Mexico until I met him.
Javier was sleeping in a tent in the living room of an apartment that he shared with four other Mexican guys. They were all cooks at the local Mexican restaurant. He worked seven days a week for nearly 12 hours a day. He had not had a day off in six months, which meant he had worked every single day since moving to America.
Meeting someone new is always scary and exciting, but being unable to communicate as well as or in the ways you normally would makes it so much more intense. You soon begin to realize that every word has more meaning, every touch has more purpose. I gave Javier my number and I left the bar wondering if we would ever speak again. Our understanding of each other seemed too small or too difficult, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had met someone who was meant to be in my life. And, sure enough, the next day he called and asked me out on a date. I hadn’t stopped thinking about him from the moment I met him, so, of course, I agreed immediately.
The following Friday night, Javier picked me up for our date. I was so nervous. I had been practicing Spanish online; taking quizzes, trying to refresh my memory with what little Spanish I knew from when I was a teen. Our plan was to go to the Mexican restaurant where he worked, and he promised me that we would have a great time. I later learned that he had to pay a friend $50 to cover his shift so he could get off work and take me out.
Even though we’d only known each other for a few hours, on the drive to the restaurant I felt his intensity in every word he said and every look he gave me, and I could already feel myself falling for him.
Suddenly flashing lights appeared behind us and we realized we were being pulled over. Panicking, Javier looked at me and said, “No tengo papeles,” or “I don’t have papers.”
“What do you mean!?” I asked confused and scared.
With tears in his eyes, he grabbed my hand and told me, “Soy ilegal” ― “I am illegal.”
I was stunned.
As the police officer approached the car, I saw beads of sweat starting to form on Javier’s face. His breathing intensified as his grip on my hand tightened. Apparently, one of the car’s tail lights was out. I soon learned it wasn’t even his car ― he was borrowing it from a friend to impress me. He also didn’t have a driver’s license or insurance.
The officer berated Javier in front of me and I did my best to translate what he was saying. Thankfully ― and shockingly ― he let us go with a warning. He must have pitied us, his eyes flickering back and forth between us as I tried to communicate what he was saying to Javier. I couldn’t believe he was just letting us go, and I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible before he changed his mind. As we drove away (I was now behind the wheel since I had a valid license), I asked: “Does this happen to you a lot? You must be constantly living in fear.”
“I am,” he replied.
Fast-forward three years. Javier and I welcomed a beautiful baby girl four months ago and we couldn’t be happier about it. However, his uncertain legal status has affected every single moment and detail of our lives over the last 36 months.
Since the moment we became a couple, I’ve felt like I’m constantly looking over my shoulder, and I spend every waking moment (and many of my dreaming ones too) petrified by the fear of Javier being discovered. I wake up each morning terrified for him over whom or what he might encounter that day, and I go to sleep thanking God he returned home to me and our daughter.
Being with Javier has cost me more than I can explain. I have lost the respect of people I love because of his legal status. I have lost friendships simply because he is undocumented. I have had people I once considered friends threaten to “get him deported” after they’d had one too many drinks. My relationship with my father has been severely strained because he doubts Javier’s intentions and constantly questions his motives. We must keep many parts of our lives ― and our life together ― hidden for fear of what might happen if the wrong people learned about Javier. In fact, our real names and any identifying characteristics had to be omitted from this article to protect us. We can’t share photos of our family ― not even a single picture of our beautiful daughter ― because the risk of what could happen to us is too great.
We know we are never truly safe. We know we must always keep our guard up. We’ve been forced to formulate an emergency plan in case Immigration and Customs Enforcement shows up at our door. We have to keep a bag filled with essentials and a couple hundred dollars in the closet so we can attempt to escape at a minute’s notice if necessary. We’re aware of other individuals who’ve been discovered, and now they are facing active deportation orders and their families have been ripped apart. Recently, an acquaintance of ours was taken into custody by ICE and sent to a detention center. His daughter tried to kill herself that same night. I can’t stop myself from wondering if Javier is next.
I found out I was pregnant on one of the coldest days of the year. Instead of being happy, I cried tears of white-hot fear. How could we bring a child into this world knowing that their father could be deported at any time? When I shared the news with Javier, he was overjoyed, but I know he wished he could obtain the same security and opportunities his daughter would have when she was born.
If Javier were to be deported, it wouldn’t just destroy his life, it would destroy the lives of people who need him and depend on him most: his infant daughter, who has just started to smile, and his family in Mexico, including a sister who has Down syndrome, his sweet abuela, who has begun to show signs of dementia, and his other daughter. All of them rely on him for support ― financial and emotional ― and for him, the risk he’s taking being in this country is worth it.
Sending money to home to Mexico has allowed his daughter there to attend the best schools. His sister is able to avoid living in an institution and instead can remain comfortable at home with their mother serving as her caretaker. While his life may not be easy or fun, and the stress and fear that follows him ― and my daughter and me ― each and every moment of every day is overwhelming to say the least, the chance to provide a better life for his family is one he feels he must take.
When people ask me why we’re not married (which they do constantly), my usual response is, “We would be if we could be.” Unfortunately, it’s just not that easy. We are currently working with an immigration attorney, but Javier’s case is complicated and having a lawyer is expensive. Because Javier entered this country without documentation, he would need to reenter the United States with documentation in order for us to get married. However, if the government finds out he’s lived in America without documentation, he could be barred from the United States for 10 years before he could attempt to legally enter. That would mean he’d be forced to live in Mexico for at least a decade without me or his daughter. It would also mean losing the income he’s currently bringing in, which is roughly triple what he would make working outside the United States.
So doing things the “right way” might just be the wrong way. Some days we want to get married. Other days we want things to stay the same as they are now. It’s a constant battle of weighing every one of the risks we’re facing ― risks that have intensified as we now have an infant daughter ― and trying to determine the best path forward. No matter what we do, one thing remains the same: The stress and uncertainty we are grappling with is wreaking havoc on our relationship. If I’m being totally honest, there are days when I just want to walk away from my life, but I won’t and I know that Javier won’t either. Even though we are unsure of what the future will bring ― even though we answer every phone call with apprehension and we greet every knock on the door with chills traveling up and down our spines, it’s all worth it to us.
What I’ve learned over the last three years is that love doesn’t need “papers” to be validated. Love doesn’t need a Social Security number to be real. The love I have for Javier is so deep and so visceral and every day my love grows as I watch him interact with our beautiful daughter. She gives us so much hope and fills us with so much more love, and it is a love that binds us together and makes us stronger. It is also a love that scares some people ― that many say should not be allowed to even exist ― and it is partly the fear of this love that makes immigration reform so emotional and so hard to achieve.
As I look forward to the upcoming election, I’m hoping that the state we live in turns from red to blue and immigration reform finally happens. I am hopeful Javier and I can find a solution to the nightmare we are living every day and that our immigration lawyer can figure out a way to obtain a green card for Javier without his having to face a 10-year ban from the United States. I am hopeful we don’t go broke trying to do so. I’m hoping our relationship can stay strong despite all of the obstacles we face. I hope one of us doesn’t throw in the towel and walk away. I hope my family finally begins to accept Javier for who he is instead of punishing him for what he is ― undocumented.
There is a saying I’ve learned ― “la lucha sigue” ― that means “the fight goes on,” and for us it has an especially personal and poignant resonance. Every day we fight ― and not just for justice and freedom and fairness ― but also for understanding and kindness and respect, as well as for the opportunities to give just as much as we receive. Javier continues to fight for a better life for his family and our daughter, and I continue to fight for him and for our family’s life together. Everyone deserves to feel safe, to feel secure, and to feel like they belong ― regardless of immigration status.
“Sarah” is a freelance writer who lives in the Midwest. She is the mom of a 4-month-old daughter and a 23-pound cat with an exercise program, and enjoys a glass of chardonnay and peace and quiet.
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