Sandra Lopez, age 22, a lifelong Tucson resident who was brought to the U.S. as a three-week-old infant by her immigrant parents, is a graduate of Amphitheater High School in Tucson, where she was an honors student. She is one of the two million undocumented immigrants who were deported under the Obama Administration over the last five years, despite the fact that she would have been eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, a program that allows people who were brought to the U.S. at a young age (called DREAMERS) to apply for work permits and a guarantee against deportation for two years.
Deported without any of her money, her cell phone or her personal belongings, Sandra spent five days living on the streets of Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, dodging sex traffickers and sleeping in a railroad car. When she asked a Mexican police officer for help in finding safe shelter, he also tried to recruit her for prostitution.
On her last day in Nogales, Sandra was accosted by an armed man who tried to drag her off the street. She ran up lanes of traffic at the U.S. DeConcini Port of Entry to ask for help from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBE). They told her that an asylum officer would talk to her about what happened to her in Mexico. Instead, she found herself facing felony charges for illegal re-entry to the U.S. after a deportation. She was convicted of the felony and transferred to a private, for-profit federal prison in Florence, Arizona.
After spending four months in Florence, Sandra was transferred to the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, where she spent the next two years fighting for asylum in the U.S. from within the privately-run, for-profit prison. She is sharing her story with the larger immigrant rights community so that people will know the stories of the 2 million immigrants, many of whom were brought to the U.S. as children and whose husbands, wives, children and extended families have lived in the U.S. and worked here for 20 or 30 years.
No More Deaths, which documented these abuses after interviewing almost 13,000 migrants for its report, “A Culture of Cruelty: Abuse and Impunity in Short-Term U.S. Border Patrol Custody," is currently researching what happens to the migrants’ money, cell phones and other personal property confiscated by the Border Patrol and not returned to migrants when they are deported. The new report is expected out in late spring.
Immigrants being deported are not even given a hearing to determine if they are eligible for asylum based on domestic violence or threats of death in their home countries. We are seeing more and more migrants escaping the extreme violence, corruption or torture in countries like Honduras, Guatemala and Colombia.
Parents who are being deported from the U.S., after years or even decades of living and working here or graduating from our public schools, are not even allowed to make a phone call to their childrens’ school or daycare center to tell them who can pick up their children at the end of the day. They are simply “disappeared”, leaving the children in severe trauma and subject to depression, anxiety disorder and attachment disorder.
Each of the two million deportations tears another impoverished family apart, turning immigrant parents into criminals and their U.S.-born children into orphans. The system is out of control, said immigration attorney and public defender Margo Cowan, who is representing Sandra in her pending asylum claim.
What we are seeing is the second generation of immigrants; only unlike our own ancestors, this second generation has no way to gain legal residency or citizenship under our broken immigration system today. More than 75 percent of the children of undocumented immigrants are U.S. citizens by birth, yet our immigration system has no provisions for any sort of “family unity waiver” to allow their undocumented parents to remain here to support and provide love and nurturing to their children, giving them a chance to build a brighter future without the threat of violence. More than 6,000 migrant men, women and children have died of exposure, severe dehydration, heat stroke and resulting liver and kidney damage while crossing the Arizona desert.
To learn more about its incredible work for human rights and participation in the “Not One More Deportation” campaign, go to the No More Deaths website and the Culture of Cruelty website. A better world is possible, and with an end to the unjust deportations that are destroying the lives of children and families torn apart, with no way to obtain legal status, and the passage of compassionate immigration reform instead of catering to the greed of the military defense industry through further militarization of the border, we can make it happen.From the Border, Leila Pine Volunteer No More Deaths