This relationship started off with reservations.
“I definitely caught feelings quickly, but I was aware of his situation and attempting to not get so involved so something like this wouldn’t have to occur,” said Fatima, who asked to only use her first name for privacy.
We met Fatima outside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. Inside was the man she plans to marry, Jose Salas-Celis. He's been held here since March.
For this young couple, and countless others in the U.S., immigration status can be a game changer — especially if one person does not have permission to stay here. Fatima was grappling with this dilemma.
She drove to Tacoma from her home near Portland for the final court hearing to see if Salas-Celis would be ordered to leave the country. The hearing was closed to the public, but Fatima was allowed in to testify and talk briefly with Salas-Celis.
“He got a haircut and his shoes looked nice,” she said. “I guess an inmate let him borrow shoes so he could look presentable in court. Then we talked about the baby that I’m going to have, kicking and moving a lot.”
Fatima is seven months pregnant and a U.S. citizen. But Salas-Celis, the baby’s father, came here illegally 10 years ago as a teenager. Records show he was arrested in Oregon for reckless driving before he was taken into immigration custody.
Fatima walked into the courtroom with Salas-Celis’ high school diploma, dressed in a striped sweater with a bow on the pocket.
“He was crying,” Fatima said. “He didn’t know what to do.”
Salas-Celis represented himself in court, without an attorney. In the end, he agreed to voluntarily return to Mexico.
“The judge was actually kind," Fatima said. “He remembered our situation, and was considerate and compassionate about the fact that I’m pregnant. But we all have to abide by the law.”
Fatima said she wishes they’d gotten married sooner and tried to apply for a green card.
“I did joke around telling him we should get married because he’s at risk of deportation, especially if Trump becomes president,” she recalled. “We thought it was a joke. So funny. But no, it’s true. It’s real. So real.”
After the baby’s born, Fatima plans to move to Mexico and see if they can be a family there.
“I would love to just have a successful life in Mexico,” she said. “If I could live a better life in Mexico than I was living in the Northwest, I’m totally for it."
But she also dreads taking this big risk and possibly losing everything she’s worked for here. She lists off how her car will probably be repossessed, her debt will go unpaid and her credit will be ruined. That’ll make it difficult if she wants to return someday.
As for the baby, she plans to name him Rey, after her own father. He also lives in Oregon and this will be his first grandchild. Fatima said she'll miss him, and as she makes this choice to leave her family and start a new one in Mexico, that's an idea that's still settling in.
“I was so excited that I was going to have a son and somehow have a happy family. A baby would just bring everyone together and he’d have so much support. But now, I don’t know. It’s just a big unknown.”