Sandra was born in Hermosillo, Sonora (Mexico). She came to the United States in 2002 in search of a better future for her young family. Sandra and her three children–Eleazar (24 yo), Karla (18 yo), and Seo (21 yo)–then 12, 6, and 9; were imprisoned in an immigration detention facility for three days in 2010 after a police officer conducting a routine traffic stop called the U.S. Border Patrol.
Her kids were traumatized by the experience and started crying when Border Patrol officers arrived. They begged their mother to fight so that they wouldn’t have to abandon their childhood in Tucson to face an uncertain future in Mexico. Sandra was desperate and scared–she had no idea what would happen to her or her small children–but she fought. Despite officers’ efforts to pressure Sandra to take voluntary departure, she insisted on seeing an immigration judge to determine her family’s fate.
They spent three days in detention before being released to wait for their date in court. As soon as she was able, Sandra started searching for a lawyer who would represent them for little to no money (she couldn’t afford the legal fees for four individuals with different immigration statuses). As her court loomed, a friend at her son’s middle school recommended Margo Cowan, Pima County Public Defender, who had recently gained local notoriety for representing undocumented individuals publicly detained at a Tucson restaurant. Sandra immediately called Margo who agreed to help with their immigration case for free, despite not knowing anything about her or her family. Margo calmly and meticulously walked Sandra through every step of the process and ultimately helped to close the case, granting Sandra and her children legal status, in 2013.
Sandra said that the experience of being detained and treated like a criminal in the town where her children grew up made her feel rejected on the deepest level. She does not think that she would be here today had it not been for Margo’s help. Today, Sandra is most proud of her three adult children who “have been able to achieve everything that they wanted to” as a result of remaining in the U.S. Each of them has attended/are planning to attend college at the University of Arizona in Tucson where Sandra has worked for many years as a custodian so that they can afford the exorbitant tuition rate charged to non-citizen students. The eldest of the three, Eleazar, is currently interning at a urology clinic and plans to apply to medical school in the fall. Seo has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and Karla heads off to school to study engineering in mid-August.
Sandra’s message for individuals who are against providing humanitarian aid to undocumented individuals is that “The world is round which means that sometimes we’re up and other times we’re down…so we always, ALWAYS need each other. There is no situation where that doesn’t apply. The worst thing that we can do is turn our back on each other.”