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Loving an "illegal"

by Nancy Sepulveda

My life has been redefined by loving and losing an “illegal” immigrant, whom I shared a home and a child with before his deportation. That was two years and a thousand tears ago. Hours spent scavenging the Internet for immigration information. Wrestling with the idea of moving my children to a third-world country (Guatemala) and sacrificing reliable education and health-care systems, my own fledgling career, and the comparative safety of American life, to reunify our family. The heartache of knowing a separation of thousands of miles and a vicious border meant other romantic interests would inevitably be pursued. Our official breakup, and inability even now to stop the desperate I still love you’s whispered across endless coils of phone line.

Visiting him in Panajachel, Guatemala after the deportation.

I admit we played a role in creating our own tragedy. He chose to come here paperless and I “chose” to love him, and at every subsequent fork in the road we went the wrong way. Why didn’t we get married before he was picked up? I was a college student dependent on financial aid and didn’t want to jeopardize it by including his spousal income. I graduated two months before he was detained.

Why didn’t we marry while he was in ICE custody? I mistakenly trusted the immigration attorney, whom I’d paid $75 for the pleasure of speaking with for 30 minutes. She said we’d have to wait until he was back in his home country because “nothing could be done before then.” She was wrong.

Why didn’t we get married as soon as he was deported? I was struggling to pay the bills and couldn’t afford an immigration lawyer. We decided the best plan was for him to come back without documents, work long enough to save money for our own little “legal defense fund,” and return to Central America for us to wed. Except he got caught trying to return.

Why don’t we marry now? His detainment during attempted reentry after deportation makes him ineligible for any waivers or petitions that would allow legal entry. He has no hope of pursuing legal immigration until 2029.

So what to do now? Lament that our daughter is another fatherless child. Regret the many if only’s peppered throughout our drama. Mourn that he saw her take her first steps and utter her first words, but will not walk her to her first day of school nor hear her sing in a school recital. Helped her get through teething her first tooth, but couldn’t help the Tooth Fairy reward her first tooth loss. He bought her baptismal dress but will not buy her prom dress. Watched her blow out her first-birthday candle, but won’t see her celebrate her sweet sixteen. He walked me down the hospital corridor as the contractions increased, but will not walk his daughter down the aisle…

Now tell me that our broken immigration system doesn’t also break families.

Contributor, Nancy Sepulveda


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


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About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


  1. Yvonne says:

    I feel for you darling but even though our legal system is flawed wrong and cruel/your procrastination did not help you had what about 3 opportunities to marry him? it would have been so easy to go to City Hall get married then go with the baby and prove that your marriage was based in love with a child conceived by it and that was that. I feel for you and pray that soon all this will be resolved but till then we will also learn not to wait until tomorrow cause tomorrow never comes. God Bless and try to be happy and resolved that you will be okay.

  2. Wow! This is terrible. :( So sorry for your loss and hope you will be able to bring him back home soon. Family comes first…and this is wrong! You’re right, our immigration system is broken and we have to fix it. I’m with you! <3

  3. emily says:

    In keeping with what Yvonne said, while I do feel for you, there is something to be said for having a child in wedlock. Marriage protects both parents and children in many legal ways. It is important for women to be diligent in choosing to have children after marriage in order to ensure them the most rights possible. I hope you find some way out of your predicament and your family can be reunited.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story. I have friends that are in the exact situation you were once in. While everything is kosher, all it will take is being stopped by the police and being detained by ICE….
    I can not imagine being in that situation. I thank god everyday that my husband is legal………although when we were young and stupid the thought would have not entered my mind for a second to hurry and work on his “papers”.

    I feel some of the comments made above are unfair. Even being married and having a child together does not protect someone here illegally (is what i’ve been told from friends in similar situations. laws changed after 9/11) I feel you can not understand unless you are 1)married to a latino or 2)have seen this happen to families.

    It breaks my heart to think of how many similar situations there are out there.

    Have you ever thought of moving with him to Guatemala? Is it safe for you and your child there?

    Praying for the best outcome!

  5. I have followed your articles since I live in Albuquerque and although I haven’t always been in agreement with your views (no issue) I respect your ability to just “say it”. You are real and admit your sorrow as well as your faults in the situation. We are all human and as humans we are not always logical or rational especially in matters of the heart. What we should do isn’t always what we do and unfortunately your family is torn apart. Thank you for being so real even at the risk of being judged per above. At least you are aware and point out your faults most of us walk around pointing out what everyone else is doing wrong totally oblivious to our own shortcomings. God Bless and my you find reprieve to your situation!

  6. cynthia says:

    My heart goes out to you and I won’t beat you over the head with the what ifs. Your story makes me glad I ‘sealed the deal’ almost immediately. My husband was without papers when we met, we fell in love immediately, and despite the potential tax liability and other financial costs to me I married him (AND he signed a prenup). We have a beautiful family now – thank God. And I am happy to say that I don’t feel the pressure of having THAT monkey on my back. I wish you the best in your story and for the subsequent chapters of your life.

  7. Nancy Sepulveda says:

    Thank you for your comment, Yvonne. You are absolutely right — procrastination certainly did not help us. I must say, though, that it wasn’t merely procrastination for procrastination’s sake (meaning, it wasn’t just a matter of “we’ll get around to it when we get around to it.”) But living for today is definitely good advice in all circumstances.

  8. Nancy Sepulveda says:

    Thanks, Chantilly! I appreciate the support.

  9. Nancy Sepulveda says:

    Thank you for your comment, Emily. I love when readers glean something from an article that absolutely never entered my mind as a potential reader reaction! :) Children born out of wedlock are increasingly common, and accepted, in today’s society. But you’re right, having married him before we had our daughter would have made our current struggle a moot point. But I must admit, though I loved him before she was born, there is something to be said for the way in which watching a man cherish and care for a beautiful, tiny creature that you have both created can make you LOVE him. I don’t know that I was ready to commit my life to him until then (I know, I know, “then why did you have a kid with him?” Um, accidents happen? hehe)

  10. Nancy Sepulveda says:

    Thank you for your kind words. You are absolutely right, even being married and having a child do not make legalization a “sure thing” and by no means is it ever an “easy” thing. It was hilarious how many of his buddies thought I could just march our daughter over to the county courthouse and demand that they release him because he had a U.S. citizen child and U.S. citizen fiancee. Yeah, right. I wish it were that simple!

    I have thought about moving to Guatemala. We’ve visited several times and it’s a beautiful country. But, there are little to no opportunities there, the poverty is devastating in many parts, and although its crime pales in comparison to Mexico right now, it is definitely not a good sign when the locals think of a police officer as the LAST person they would go to for help! But, never say never…

  11. Nancy Sepulveda says:

    Thank you so much for your comment, RM. I can’t tell you how many “do-overs” I’ve ran through in my mind. We were one of those crazy couples who wanted to marry for love, never to just fix his papers. I now regret letting my heart control my actions rather than my head…

    And, I’m happy to hear a fellow Albuquerquean is following! Keep reading, buddy :)

  12. Nancy Sepulveda says:

    Thank you, Cynthia. Props for being an example of how it SHOULD be done! I hope one day my family finds as happy an ending as yours has. God bless!

  13. april says:

    I applaud you for your strength. I know all that you’ve gone through and continue to go through cannot be easy on any level. I keep you and your daughter in my prayers and hope that you will be reunited with him as soon as possible. I feel the same as you about the laws and the system.

  14. This is so heartbreaking. As someone who prefers to “play by the rules” and is generally trusting of others (even attorneys) as well, I can see myself making the same choices you did. I too applaud your strength and integrity.

  15. This piece brought tears to my eyes and grabbed at my heart. It’s very well-written and as someone who fell in love with and married an “undocumented” man – this would be my ultimate nightmare. His status was fixed years ago and he’s a U.S. citizen now – but those days of fear that we could be torn away from each other – I won’t forget them. My heart breaks for you both, and for your daughter. It seems so senseless – all this pain, for what? An invisible line drawn by politicians…

  16. Crystal says:

    I don’t think that having married him will have necessarily made things easier. I mean of course it would help, but for example I married my husband and we began the legalization process, but have been separated for two and a half years now as a result of his interview in Juarez. So there would have still been that act of separation. We also have a lot of “ifs” that we ponder about, just like you. Like maybe we should have hired a good lawyer to do the process for us so that he wouldn’t have had to go to Juarez and be penalized for all these years. The lawyer that Í’m with now informed me that there were ways around it, but its too late now. The office that helped us with the forms did not inform us correctly about our options, so it could have been that he never had to go to Juarez in the first place, or if they had informed us about the waiver, we could have had it ready the first time he went to his interview, and he would have possible been back already.
    I too am in school and have continued to go to school throughout this time with the motivation of my husband. And I am so thankful for my education, because it has helped me get through this in so many ways and learn and grow from it and create awareness and consciousness about the legalization process, because a lot of people assume its really easy. It is a very difficult process to go through, but just don’t lose hope. My husband had a lot of guilt in the beginning saying that he is sorry for putting me in this position and that I should have married someone else in order to have an easier life, but his undocumented status has never been a factor that made me contemplate not being with him. I love him, he is an amazing person, and I can’t imagine not having him in my life if I had let such an insignificant factor get in my way. Unfortunately you are not the only one going through this, and despite the difficulties of being a Latina, don’t ever let this tear you apart and shame you for who you are.

  17. Nancy Sepulveda says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, Crystal. You are absolutely right — a marriage certificate does not guarantee a positive outcome. Movies and TV make it seem like it is, so a lot of people mistakenly assume that’s all it takes. Congratultions on pursuing your eduction — knowledge is power. It’s comforting to know that other women can relate to what I am going through (though sad tht any of us have to experience this in the first place)…

  18. Thank you so much for writing about this. I have been in a relationship with an undocumented woman for a couple of years now…I don’t know anyone else in this situation and feel so alone sometimes. So your piece really resonated with me. There are so many uncertainties – will she be able to get a job after she gets her degree? Will she be deported? What will I do if she goes back to Mexico? It’s true that marriage is not a surefire way to begin the legalization process, but that’s not even an option for us since we are both women and gay marriage isn’t federally recognized.
    A couple of you mentioned getting bad advice from lawyers that resulted in your partners going back to their home countries. I thought that this was part of the process…what is the alternative?

  19. Laura Florea says:


  20. Nancy Sepulveda says:

    Thanks for reading, Laura. I say our system is broken not for taking him away for breaking the law, but for having in place laws such as those to be broken in the first place (although the idea of entry without inspection as an actual criminal activity is a debate within itself; RE-entry AFTER deportation is clearly a violation of the law but it’s different the first time around before an active deportation order is in place. Again, another debate.) I sense a lot of frustration in your commentary, so perhaps there is more backstory to your own views just as there is a backstory to mine; the reality that spouses are abandoned in their home countries is really unrelated to the idea of broken families in the U.S. as a result of deportation. The fact that some families are willingly left behind in one scenario does not detract from the pain of families torn apart against their will in another. But I agree with you completely that life is full of challenges and that the focus is and should always be our daughter…

  21. sadsfs says:

    It’s hard Nancy Inget what you mean because I’m not willing to marry my boyfriend. Why? Because I get my tuition paid, unless he was willing to pay me would I sacrifice something like this, because I love him, but when there are people offering me 25,000 dollars for marrying them against him and the possiblity of him leaving me and me dumping ym future for him? nah. Of course I would never have kids with him – I really do not get why illegal immigrants HAVE kids on the first place, you are in a dangerous situations, why bring children and expose them to that? that of course has nothing to do with you since you are a citizen. I’m sorry for what happened to you, I send you a big big virtual hug…. Im REALLY sorry you went to that lawyer, I ahd a similar experience with an immigration lawyer, I’m wondering if you have tried talking to another lawyer? I remember a friend appealed her case because she was wrongly represented :( I learned from ym own mistakes and now I always get a 2nd or 3rd opinion sigh…………… a big hug, Try to go on… consider using skype, or ventrilo, so you can communicate better, also getting him a magic jack and one for your home would be awesome. Its like he had a US phone landline. Best wishes!

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