When the undocumented immigrant is a friend

By Cristina DC Pastor

She had not emailed in a while. Two weeks and counting. When you’re 24/7 friends with someone, a day’s silence is a long time.

On Monday, she had written she would be taking care of family business in California and would be back in time for a lunch date we kept putting off. By Friday, we would be sharing a plate of ‘adobo’ at, maybe, Purple Yam and filleting this juicy bit of ‘chismis’ about someone we both disliked who was dating a woman we both adored.

Friday came. No lunch, no email, and to my eternal annoyance, no ‘adobo.’ Peeved, I was prepared to write her off my list of Ladies I Lunch With.

Until an email came in.

The words “failure to appear,” “taken into custody,” and “you are removable” jumped out of my inbox. There were four attachments, all official documents from the Immigration Court of California addressed to my friend. The letterhead says Notice of Hearing in Removal Proceedings.

My friend is undocumented and she could be deported anytime. I was stunned by everything I was reading.

I’ve known her for years and never suspected anything; not that undocumented immigrants act strange. I found her to be very open about her life and that of her family, her financial situation, her strange collection of unattainable boyfriends, her medical history, which counted an abortion when she was in college. She and I would meet for lunch depending on how much time we had. If either had a looming deadline, a quick ‘shabu-shabu’ at K Town was always something we could squeeze in Friday after work, and then we’re off to our separate lives.

In the body of her email was simply, “Please write my letter to the court. I need it by (date).”

I didn’t know which peeved me more: That she was giving me an impossible deadline or that she did not open this part of her life and let me in. I tried to reason with myself. Being undocumented is not something you proclaim to the world, not even to a friend of five years who has seen you through some boozy nights while you wailed over your then-boyfriend from Cuba who wanted to marry you but you suspected was his ploy to stay in the country legally. I know now why you cried so hard that night on 32nd Street. You wanted him too, but could not tell him why marriage was not an option.

I dashed off a quick email, ignoring the part about the letter and the deadline.

“You have a husband?” “What is this about?” Do you have a lawyer?” “Are you OK?”

She replied quickly, ignoring nearly everything I asked, except to say, “Yes, I have a lawyer. Puti. Jewish.”

I wrote back. I said if she had a lawyer, he or she should be the one to write the letter to the court. Lawyers have paralegals doing that kind of task. I did not hear back from her. It’s been two weeks.

Immigration is a best-kept secret among Filipino Americans. I don’t really know the circumstances of my friends’ presence here in the U.S., and never have I asked. In the same way that no one has asked me about mine. It’s a question as intrusive as one’s age, pay check or gun ownership. In political commentaries, many have spoken out about immigration breaking up families and separating spouses. I’ve heard no one argue how immigration keeps friends apart.

In the shallowness of my sleep, I would snap awake wondering if she was already behind bars and being processed to be sent home. I had no way of knowing. I asked common friends, but was careful not to reveal too much. All I know was when she sought my help, I hesitated. When she needed an ‘underground railroad,’ I did not help pave the way. I was contemplating doing a draft but did not hear back from her. Maybe when time was crucial to her, I wasted it by debating with myself.

I still send her emails, hoping that when the days are mellower she would write back. I’ve said sorry for equivocating. I did not realize the urgency of her request, justifying only that time may have been too abrupt for me to make a decision. I tell her I miss her and love her dearly.

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