As unexpectedly as it was put on, Matias Ramos’ electronic monitoring ankle bracelet came off last night. Matias, an undocumented DREAM Act leader, was home in his DC apartment when a representative of BI Incorporated, a young, clean cut Latino man about Matias’ age, showed up to remove the device that the government used to track him as his deportation date drew closer.
With the removal of the bracelet also came news of a 6-month stay to his deportation. Matias isn’t in the clear. He just has 6 more months to fight the deportation, a frustrating development considering that President Obama just a few weeks ago said low-priority cases like Matias’ would be cleared from the deportation docket to make room for dangerous criminals who are threats to our country.
It also undermines the Administration’s insistence that it is not deporting people who have roots and are contributing to the economy. Obama, by the way, officially surpassed 1 million deportations in July, including 544,864 immigrants who were considered non-criminals. By contrast it took former President George Bush 8 years to deport 1.57 million.
Matias has been undocumented for nearly half his life, since the visas his family used when they left Argentina expired. At age 13, he signed a document where he agreed he would never have access to immigration courts. The agreement still stands, which has left Matias with few alternatives for legalization.
So he has fought for legislative change. Matias, a UCLA grad, has been at the forefront of the fight for the DREAM Act, co-founding one of the most active pro-DREAM organizations, United We DREAM Network. It was after a gathering of DREAMers in Minneapolis that Matias was first detained at the airport in February 2010 when a TSA agent looked at Matias’ consular ID card and asked for another form of identification. Matias only had an expired passport. TSA called Border Patrol.
Matias said he knew traveling was risky, but wanted to test the boundaries, live freely and encourage others to do the same.
“I tested those limits because I wanted to have new experiences, to grow,” he said. “Nothing gets done without some pressure.”
What’s ironic to Matias and symbolic of the dysfunctional nature of our immigration system is that after being detained and put into deportation proceedings, Matias was given a work permit, something he hadn’t been able to obtain before.
He checked in a couple of times with ICE. Each time he was given a date for the next check in. It was what he expected on September 13 when he went to the basement of the Fairfax ICE Field Office. But instead of being given a new appearance date, he was instructed to go to another address. He was told someone was waiting for him there, but the ICE officer refused to tell him what was expecting him.
At the BI Incorporated office, a part of the GEO Group, one of the two biggest corporations in the private prison business, Matias was finally told he was now enrolled in the intensive supervision program and would be required to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet until October 4 when he would be expected to leave the country.
“I was shocked for a few days into inaction,” Matias said of receiving the bracelet. “As soon as the thing went on my ankle, my whole being was just tied. The first time I plugged it in, I felt so humiliated.”
Even his attorney hadn’t expected the escalation. Matias had done everything asked of him. He had reported when told to do so, he was active in the community and had a job. Now the government was paying a company to keep track of his whereabouts every minute of the day. The black device required that he charge it for three hours every day. During the day he could almost forget he had it on, but at night when he got home and kicked off his shoes, it was a reminder that he couldn’t relax, not with the days counting down till he had to report to ICE again with his one way ticket to Buenos Aires in hand and eventually make that trip.
It’s worth noting that the American Bar Association objects to the use of these devices on people like Matias who don’t pose a flight risk. “Such use of these devices is overly restrictive and intrusive in nature. It constitutes another form of detention, rather than a meaningful alternative.” And the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has criticized the Department of Homeland Security for failing to use these intense supervision programs as a substitute for detention instead focusing on immigrants who are eligible for release. “The unnecessary use of restrictive alternatives programs for people who are already eligible for release substantially reduces the cost-savings to the Department.”
After the shock wore off, Matias the activist hit high gear engaging the networks he had built while helping other DREAMers fight their deportations. In 48 hours, they gathered more than 5,000 signatures. ICE didn’t give him an explanation for the stay, but Matias knows the calls, petitions and news stories moved ICE to back down.
The author, Mary Moreno, is the communications director at Voto Latino. Before joining VL, she worked as a crime reporter for seven years and for two DC nonprofits. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, she’s a proud Texan who currently lives in DC.