The Story of Sandra Lopez and the Need for Immigration Reform

Sandra Lopez, 22, a lifelong Tucson resident who was brought to the USA 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 US at a young age to apply for work Permits and to 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 for help in finding safe shelter, he also tried to recruit her for prostitution.
On her last day in Nogales, Sandra was accosted b an armed man who tried to drag her off the street. She ran up lanes of traffic at the US DeConcini Port of Entry to ask for help from US Customs and Border Protection. 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 US 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 US from within the privately run for profit prison. She is sharing her story so that people will know the stories of the two million immigrants, many of whom were brought to the US as children and whose extended family has lived here 20 or 30 years.
Position of the US Catholic Church
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) opposes “enforcement only” immigration policies and supports comprehensive immigration reform. In Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, the U.S. Catholic Bishops outlined the elements of their proposal for comprehensive immigration reform. These include:
  • Earned Legalization: An earned legalization program would allow foreign nationals of good moral character who are living in the United States to apply to adjust their status to obtain lawful permanent residence. Such a program would create an eventual path to citizenship, requiring applicants to complete and pass background checks, pay a fine, and establish eligibility for resident status to participate in the program. Such a program would help stabilize the workforce, promote family unity, and bring a large population “out of the shadows,” as members of their communities.
  • Future Worker Program: A worker program to permit foreign‐born workers to enter the country safely and legally would help reduce illegal immigration and the loss of life in the American desert. Any program should include workplace protections, living wage levels, safeguards against the displacement of U.S. workers, and family unity.
  • Family‐based Immigration Reform: It currently takes years for family members to be reunited through the family‐based legal immigration system. This leads to family breakdown and, in some cases, illegal immigration. Changes in family‐based immigration should be made to increase the number of family visas available and reduce family reunification waiting times.
  • Restoration of Due Process Rights: Due process rights taken away by the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) should be restored. For example, the three and ten year bars to reentry should be eliminated.
  • Addressing Root Causes: Congress should examine the root causes of migration, such as under‐development and poverty in sending countries, and seek long‐term solutions. The antidote to the problem of illegal immigration is sustainable economic development in sending countries. In an ideal world, migration should be driven by choice, not necessity.
  • Enforcement: The U.S. Catholic Bishops accept the legitimate role of the U.S. government in intercepting unauthorized migrants who attempt to travel to the United States. The Bishops also believe that by increasing lawful means for migrants to enter, live, and work in the United States, law enforcement will be better able to focus upon those who truly threaten public safety: drug and human traffickers, smugglers, and would‐be terrorists. Any enforcement measures must be targeted, proportional, and humane.
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