Tatiana Gruzdeva Spent Her 20th Birthday Behind Bars

Update: Gruzdeva, the girlfriend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev associate Ibragim Todashev, was deported to Moscow.

UPDATE, October 15, 2013: Two days after this story was first published, Tatiana Gruzdeva was deported to Moscow, Russia. An official from the Glades County Sheriff’s office confirms she was released on October 11. Tatiana told me her mother was able to pick her up at the airport the following day and she’s now back in her hometown of Tiraspol, Moldova. “im so happy!” she wrote. “im in my native place.”

EARLIER: Tatiana Gruzdeva sits in a Moore Haven, Fla., jail cell. She has been there for more than a week. Her mother is in Moldova, her father in Russia; she has no lawyer to call. Her boyfriend is dead. Her housemate is in jail, and has been questioned by the FBI. She’s been told she will be deported, but not when. Today is her 20th birthday.

How did she get here? In May, she was living with her boyfriend, Ibragim Todashev, in an Orlando apartment. They had a cat named Masia. She was working off the books at a local restaurant. Then the FBI came to their door and told her what she didn’t know: Todashev had been friends with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the suspected Boston Marathon bomber.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship took Gruzdeva into custody for an expired visa while Todashev was questioned and, later, shot to death by FBI agents. The circumstances surrounding his death remain unclear. The FBI has said that before his death, Todashev implicated himself and Tsarnaev in a 2011 triple murder in Waltham.

Gruzdeva was held for months after Todashev was killed, and finally released in August. Immigration officials told her she could stay legally in the U.S. for another year, and she was working on getting permission to work here.

She told me this story three weeks ago. I had friended her on Facebook, and we wound up talking on the phone late into the night. She had decided to speak to a reporter for the first time, she told me, because another friend of Todashev, Ashurmamad Miralaev, had been arrested that night and interrogated by the FBI. Boston magazine published my interview with her two days later.

Two weeks after that, on October 1, Gruzdeva went to a routine meeting with her immigrations officer. Instead, she was again taken into custody. She says several immigrations officials told her she was being deported because she had spoken to the press.

“It’s crazy, I can’t believe it’s true but they said like this, all because of this interview,” she told me in a collect call from Glades County Jail. Gruzdeva added that she had been moved out of solitary confinement, where she was initially placed, and into a dorm.

Gruzdeva would not tell me the names of the officers she spoke to. “I can’t, I can’t tell. You know, these phones, they listen. Everything is recording,” she said. “I am afraid maybe I will be longer in the jail and who knows if they have people in Russia.”

No one from ICE could comment on Gruzdeva’s status, since all the department’s spokespersons have been furloughed due to the federal shutdown. But immigration lawyers Susan Church and Jeremiah Freedman told me Gruzdeva was most likely given something called an order of supervision—and yes, they said, under an order of supervision, the feds can deport her for speaking to the media.

Church says this proviso matches Gruzdeva’s account that she was given a one-year extension to stay in America and that she was allowed to file for work papers. Orders of supervision are usually given under another legal provision called deferred action. Church says it’s common for people to file for work under these circumstances.

According to Freedman, orders of supervision can include certain requirements like not speaking to the press. “If you violate the conditions of your order of supervision,” he said, “they pick you up and put you in jail again.” And Church says these requirements don’t have to be explicit. “A person who has an overstay really doesn’t have any legal rights,” said Church. “They could be picked up at any time.”

“That is really a privilege that is not extended to many people,” said Church, who in a separate case is representing Robel Phillipos, a friend of Tsarnaev who has been accused of lying to FBI agents about the disposal of bombing evidence.

Tampa, Fla., FBI Public Affairs officer David Couvertier says he could not confirm or deny if FBI agents were involved in Gruzdeva’s detainment. “Unfortunately, we are not in a position to provide any additional information since there are pending matters.”

Currently, there is still no timeline for Gruzdeva’s deportation. She worries: Will she be deported to Moscow in the middle of winter with only the summer clothing she was detained in? Will her mother, who lives a 15-hour drive away, be able to pick her up?

Her worst fear, she told me, is that she’ll be kept here, in jail, indefinitely. She asked me to call the Moscow embassy for her. “Tell them to deport me soon,” she said, “because this is impossible.”