Immigrant Felons And Deportation: One Grandmother’s Case

Maria Sanchez is a 63-year-old widow, grandmother of three and a legal permanent resident who has lived and worked in Sonoma County, Calif., for more than 40 years.

But she has also come close to being deported. Four years ago, Sanchez was almost separated from her family here in the U.S. for a crime she committed in the late 1990s. Hers is a story that brings up one of the most volatile issues in this election season — immigration, and by extension, deportation.

President Obama has said he wants to prioritize the deportation of immigrants with criminal records. In 2014, he stressed that immigration agents would target “felons, not families.” Sanchez’s situation, however, reveals that some immigrant felons are not what they seem. And many may still have a strong case for remaining in the United States.

Sitting in her suburban home, Sanchez remembers how close she came to being deported. She was returning from a vacation in Mexico, as she had several times before without a problem. But this time, Sanchez was detained at the Oakland airport and questioned for several hours by immigration officials.

“They treated me like I was a criminal, and all I’ve ever done is work,” Sanchez says.

The authorities had found a 14-year-old drug conviction on her record. According to court documents, in 1998, Sanchez had pleaded guilty to one charge of cultivation of marijuana. She says she had grown four small plants and soaked the cannabis in rubbing alcohol as a tincture for her arthritis. Sanchez was sentenced to four months of house arrest, three years of probation and a fine.

By Richard Gonzales for NPR
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