Deported Oakland Nurse Wins Visa Lottery to Return to U.S.
By Chaunie Brusie
Mendoza-Sanchez just won the lottery.
No, she wasn’t part of any Mega Millions winning lottery ticket, but to the Mexican-born mother of four and oncology nurse, the lottery ticket she won may just even more priceless. After 16 months apart from her family and 16 years of fighting for citizenship, Mendoza-Sanchez’s work visa was finally approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Her name was randomly selected, along with 65,000 other immigrants applying for visas, in a visa lottery, making this holiday season the best one yet for her reunited family. She was officially reunited with her family on December 16th and expressed her happiness over being able to spend Christmas together.
"I am very happy to be here. I'm very happy to be back. This is really a dream that I never expected was going to come true," she said at her homecoming.
One Nurse’s Journey
Despite being chosen by the lottery, Mendoza-Sanchez still faced obstacles; because she had entered the country illegally, she wasn’t eligible for a visa through normal channels, so she applied for a waiver based on her skilled trade as a nurse for Alameda Health Services.
She was denied.
Nevertheless, she persisted, taking her case to the consular office in Mexico City, where the State Department granted her waiver appeal and Immigration Services finally gave her a three-year H-1B work visa in November. The visa comes with the possibility of an additional three-year extension.
It’s been a long fight for Mendoza-Sanchez, not just to get her right to work legally in the United States, but to earn the nursing badge that she is so proud to wear each and every day.
“Being a nurse is not a job for me,” she said the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s a privilege.”
Mendoza-Sanchez, 47, was an undocumented immigrant who was deported from what had become her home in Oakland in 2017. The hardworking Mendoza-Sanchez first came to the United States after leaving her village in Santa Monica and hiking through the hills of San Diego near the border. She made the decision to join a friend she had known from her village in Oakland, whom she would go on to marry.
The couple had four children, a daughter she gave birth to in Mexico, followed by two more daughters and a son all born in the U.S. Both husband and wife worked jobs wherever they could find them, with Mendoza-Sanchez working her way through nursing school by cleaning houses and nursing homes. She worked so hard, in fact, that she averaged only about two hours of sleep per night, determined to make the most of her career.
Call for Deportation
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Mendoza-Sanchez had work permits and had applied for legal status as early as 2002. However, in 2012, a judge ordered that both she and her husband be deported back to Mexico. Their deportation was delayed under Obama’s administration, providing she update her work permit every 6 months. And all of her hard work appeared to be paying off when she earned a job as an oncology nurse at Highland Hospital in Oakland making six figures.
By May 2017, however, under the Trump administration, things were much different and a judge pushed through their deportation, giving them three months to leave the United States. In August, a tearful Mendoza-Sanchez, her husband Eusebio, a truck driver, and their son, boarded a plane to Mexico City without looking back at her daughters she was leaving behind. Their 16-year-old daughter was left in the care of their 23-year-old daughter to finish out high school while their son, Jesus, only 12, had to come with them because he was too young to stay with his sisters. Eventually, after being unable to adjust to life in rural Mexico after only knowing California as his home his entire life, Jesus did go back to the U.S. to stay with his sisters, leaving his eldest sister to lead the family.
“When I left the airport, I’m glad that I didn’t turn around when I said goodbye to my kids,” she said. “I think if I had turned around and seen that much pain, I wouldn’t have been able to leave.”
A Family Reunited
If her career up to this point was any indication, Mendoza-Sanchez was determined not to give up: she searched for ways during the time apart from her family to regain entry to the United State and reunite with her daughters. Her case, along with the immigration policies that led to the deportation of a hardworking woman who was doing everything in her power to work legally in the U.S., put a spotlight on the issues that so many undocumented immigrants face. She has a Facebook page, Maria Mendoza Sanchez, Reunite Her Family and a Change.org petition that gathered 95, 917 signatures in support of bringing her back to the U.S.
“Maria and her family represent what is best about America,” wrote one supporter. “I donated because this situation should never have occurred… Maria was providing an essential service in her job as an oncology nurse,” wrote another.
Updates to her supporters have been posted as her case has progressed and there is now a GoFundMe for help with legal fees and donations as the family gets back on their feet. Sanchez’s husband remains in Mexico City and it’s unclear if he will be able to return.
As she hopes for her husband’s return and celebrates being reunited with her children, Mendoza-Sanchez is doing what she has always done: preparing to work hard and express her gratitude by giving back through her work as a nurse, where her job is waiting for her.
"I thank God for the people who have shown support and I hope that when I come back God gives me the opportunity of helping others going through this,” she wrote on the fundraising page. “There are not enough words to express my gratitude to every single person who has helped us. I know that I will probably never meet them but they already are a very important part of our family. May God bless all of you. "