Immigrant Stories: Family struggles with mother in sanctuary
Intro: Sandra Lopez and her husband came to the United States in 1998. For the next 12 years they worked hard and raised their two sons.
Then one night, in 2010, she and her husband had an argument, and one of their sons dialed 911. That call changed the trajectory of the Lopez family. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) got involved and issued an order to deport Sandra.
For eight years, Sandra fought to stay with her family, but in October of 2017 ICE made it clear that she was going to be deported. That’s when Sandra sought sanctuary in the Two Rivers Unitarian Church in Carbondale, where she has spent the last nine months with her 3-year-old daughter.
Note: Sandra speaks through an interpreter.
Gallacher: Why did you come to the United States?
Lopez: Well I came to the United States with my husband, he said we would have a better life here, bigger opportunities. There is a lot of violence in Mexico.
Gallacher: What kind of violence were you experiencing?
Lopez: There are a lot of criminal groups, and a lot of times they work with the government. There is no justice, and we are very afraid to demand it.
Gallacher: What was growing up in Mexico like for you?
Lopez: I come from a big family, but my father and mother always taught us morals and values. Unfortunately, my mother is no longer alive.
I was able to call her two days before she died. I said, “I am very sorry, mom, I can’t be with you.” I was crying. My mom said, “Don’t worry daughter, I understand your situation. Please fight, fight for your rights, please continue. Don’t come over here please, because over here it’s very dangerous. There is no life here, please stay there, don’t come and see me. I’m OK.”
Gallacher: Is your father still alive?
Lopez: Yes, he’s a very good father, I’m very proud of him.
Gallacher: When you came to the United States what did you do?
Lopez: When we first came to the United States it was difficult for my husband and me because we came with one of his brothers. We were a couple with many dreams, and we were newlyweds.
We worked hard and finally saved enough to buy a small mobile home so that we could live separately. My husband worked construction, and I did housekeeping in hotels.
I had to stop working when I got pregnant with our first child, Alex.
For the next 12 years, we worked hard and raised our two sons, but then in 2010 I was reported to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) because of an argument my husband and I had.
Gallacher: What did ICE do?
Lopez: They interviewed me over the phone. The day I was arrested, I remember the secretary at the police department saying, “You have a phone call.” I thought it was strange, and when I asked her who it was, she just said “ICE.” That’s when my heart sank, and I just put my face in my hands and thought, this is the last thing I needed.
Gallacher: Why did you seek sanctuary?
Lopez: Because that was what was best for me and my family. I didn’t want to enter into an unfair system where families are separated. I’m not a criminal, my charges were dismissed after I was arrested for domestic violence. They were dismissed because there was no accusation from my husband from the beginning.
Unfortunately, on the night of the incident, many things happened. The police officer was the one who pushing for charges of domestic violence. When he asked me if I had a Colorado ID, I told him I didn’t. He began to yell at me, and his behavior changed completely, and he arrested me and took me away.
My husband asked him why he was arresting me and pleaded with him to take him instead. He tried to explain to the officer that we were just having an argument that could easily be fixed.
Gallacher: How has living in sanctuary affected your family?
Lopez: It has impacted my family in many ways, it has affected us a lot psychologically, and financially. It’s a situation I haven’t been able to get out of. I have fought deportation for eight years.
It’s very difficult for me to be in sanctuary. I have lost my role as a mother and a wife because I had to leave everything, my husband, my children, my job and my home. I have lost my role as mother. Right now, I am probably only 20 percent a mother for them.
My sons and my husband are only able to come visit me on the weekends.
I miss sharing the days with them. I worry about my 13-year-old son. Having me in sanctuary has really been hard on him.
It’s very difficult for my husband to fulfill the mother role as well as the father role. Because our youngest son doesn’t want to be with anyone, only his mom and dad.
My older son, Alex, takes him to school, we’ve even had teachers volunteer to take him to school, but he doesn’t want to be around anyone except for his family.
He’s a child who misses school a lot, he gets sick often, and I can’t take him to the doctor. He’s been very affected psychologically by all this.
Our troubles with ICE have affected his grades because he’s been struggling to sleep, he doesn’t eat well, throughout the night he stays awake worrying about everything that is going on.
Gallacher: What keeps you going in the face of all that has happened?
Lopez: I love my children. It’s an infinite love no one will ever be able to take from me, not even the government.
Gallacher: Are you willing to stay in sanctuary indefinitely?
Lopez: I will stay as long as necessary. Any sacrifice that I make for my husband and my children is worth it.
Gallacher: What would happen if you were deported and sent back to Mexico?
Lopez: There is no way for me or my children to create a life over there. I often ask myself why I am in this situation. Why can’t I get a legal document? I am the mother of my children and their home country is the United States. I fear for my life if I am deported to Mexico because of the violence.
We are a family who doesn’t want to be separated. We are no different from other families. If I took my children over there, I would be destroying their dreams, because this is their home, their country. And my place is to be by their sides, at all costs, because they are my children. No one can break that bond, not a society, not a government or anyone.
Why am I being hunted for not having a document? I am human, and I am worthy of being with my children. We deserve a chance at a better life. We are human, we have dreams, and we are worthy. We aren’t creatures from a different world. I am a woman and, like any other mother, I wish to be free and be with my children.
Gallacher: What has having your mother in sanctuary been like for you?
Alex: This isn’t something I can calmly talk about. It’s so frustrating to have to go over town just to be with my mom. I can’t stand the thought that she is not at our house.
She can’t even go out on the front porch of the sanctuary house. I hate that we can’t go with her to a restaurant and have a meal together as a family. When we visit her, we have to be enclosed in this building just to be together.
Gallacher: How has it changed life at your house to not have her there?
Alex: I have trouble with motivation. It’s hard for me to concentrate on other things. I have to stay active and do something with my hands. I can’t just sit with a book. That’s why I chose to do something with auto-mechanics.
I was going to school for automotive, but I had to quit because my mom is here. I needed to go to work and help my dad since he is the only one working.
Gallacher: You have had to be a big brother in a different way than most.
Alex: Yes, I try to encourage my brother the way I always have, but he doesn’t go outside. Not having mom around has really changed him. He thinks about things differently.
Gallacher: He’s depressed and sad.
Alex: This isn’t something you couldn’t be depressed and sad about. You can’t actually comprehend the situation until you go through it yourself.
Gallacher: How is your dad doing?
Alex: He is just trying his hardest to support us the best way he can. He is working construction doing hard labor, but it’s been hard for him because he has a back injury. But it’s the only work he knows.
Right now, he’s struggling to build the best life he can for us and sustain it.
Gallacher: What is your dream when this is over?
Alex: I’m not sure. I haven’t really thought of it that far. It’s been eight years since this started.