72 hours after she came into the world, Sandra Lopez was brought to the United States. Now 20 years old, Sandra is facing deportation in 4 days for committing a felony. Her crime? Attempting to return to the only country she has called home since she was 3 days old.
Sandra’s parents brought her and her sister to Arizona to try and provide a better quality of life for their daughters. Sandra grew up speaking English, and has attended school in the United States from Kindergarten through 12th grade. She was the first in her close family to graduate from high school, maintaining a high GPA.
Growing up, however, Sandra faced more than her fair share of challenges. She grew up in a very low-income household, lacking the money and resources to allow her to pursue the same opportunities as her peers. She constantly struggled to find mentorship and guidance from an adult role model, something she also lacked at home. Sandra has been forced to fend for herself, both financially and emotionally, from a young age.
During high school, she began a long and fruitless search to find employment, cleaning houses with her mother in the meantime. Her living situation was unstable – not welcomed at home, she would sleep with friends or extended family when possible. Without a social security number, Sandra found herself turned away from job interview after job interview. Hoping that she could pursue higher education in order to improve her future prospects, she attended orientation at a local community college, interested yet still undecided in a future in medicine or law. Again she was not allowed to enroll due to her immigration status. Not daunted, Sandra continued to motivate and encourage her closest friends and siblings to work hard in school and continue their own education.
After her high school graduation, having spent over a year in search of employment, a stable living situation, and the opportunity to support herself and improve her future, Sandra became desperate for funds. Having grown up with such an independent spirit, she felt that she needed to rely on herself and no one else. In a moment of desperation, surrounded by people looking for someone to exploit for their own personal gain, Sandra made a bad decision that led to her arrest in September 2010.
Being in Arizona, she was turned over to immigration officials and detained for 9 months. While in detention, she was repeatedly pressured to sign voluntary removal papers. Without friends, family or a lawyer to guide her, Sandra broke under the aggressive persistence of ICE officers and accidentally signed an order of removal. A few days later, she found herself in Nogales, Mexico with no possessions and no one to rely on.
In a foreign land, with no familiar faces, Sandra did what many in her situation would do – she decided she would go back home. How was she supposed to live in a foreign city, with no money, no clothes, no resources and no ties? Where was she supposed to live? How was she supposed to even survive as a young person, vulnerable to attack or exploitation?
Nogales, Mexico lies just 50 minutes from Sandra’s home in Tucson, Arizona. Sandra was only 50 minutes away from the place she had grown up in her entire life. Sandra’s decision to return was based on the determination that she would fight for her freedom, knowing that it was only 50 minutes away. Sandra’s path in life has already been drastically changed by the first 72 hours of her life; she wasn’t going to let 50 minutes once again break her spirit.
On her journey back home, however, Sandra was caught and arrested. She was convicted of a felony for attempting to return after her so-called “voluntary departure.” Imagine that – a person who tries to return to the only home they have known since they were 3 days old get convicted of a felony in the process. Since when has it become ok to criminalize a person’s idea of home, of family, of roots and culture?
Our immigration system that purports to promote “family reunification” criminalizes those who attempt to reunite themselves with their families. This system charges them with felonies and detains them in jail for months or years at a time, often without adequate access to legal representation, and hopes that the public will never find out about them. These are the stories that desperately need to be amplified, the stories that shine light on the desperation and resilience of those willing to cross the border again and again and again in search of home, in search of family, and in search of self.
The Obama administration and the Department of Homeland Security under Janet Napolitano have been recycling the same talking point this entire year: undocumented and DREAM-eligible youth are not the priority of ICE for deportation and detention. Yet to this very day, hundreds of these youth are routinely singled out and actively targeted for deportation. Sandra is one of these youth whom various systems – our education system, our immigration system, our social work system – has failed many times, and she is now a victim of circumstance of the many obstacles that life has thrown her way.
Are we to send the message that simply because of this, Sandra is not worth fighting for? That her life and the place that she calls home are not as valuable as that of the undocumented valedictorian or graduate student?
In the words of Jodie, the mother of Sandra’s best friend, “Besides her tough childhood and complicated start to her own life, she is an amazing person. She deserves way better than what she has received her whole life. She is ready to pursue her dreams, with a little bit of help.”
“Sometimes I think she loses hope and motivation. I want Sandra to be released and allowed to stay so she would be around her own family and friends who love her and care about her, and want to see her succeed.”
Sandra is worth more than being cast as another statistic. She is a human being, a daughter, a friend, and potential just waiting to be released. Please take action in demanding a stop to Sandra’s deportation in 4 days, and become a part in helping her pursue her dreams.
- Sign Sandra’s petition asking John Morton & Janet Napolitano to stop the deportation of Sandra Lopez. Share it with 3 friends.
- Call John Morton & voice your support for Sandra in seeking a stop to her deportation. 1-800-394-5855
Sample Script: “I am calling to ask that Sandra F. Lopez be released from detention and be allowed to stay in the U.S. Sandra was brought to the United States soon after her birth. If deported, she will be sent to a country she doesn’t know or remember. Please stop Sandra’s deportation.” 1-800-394-5855
- Twitter: Sandra came to the U.S. at 3 DAYS old, is detained & faces deportation this Thursday! Help stop us her deportation http://bit.ly/nsyUwg
- Facebook: Sandra was 3 days old when she came to the U.S. She faces deportation this Thursday after attempting to return to Tucson, the only home she has known, from Nogales, where she was dropped off after being pressured to sign a voluntary removal order. Help stop us her deportation http://bit.ly/n4e15H