SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - One of the happiest times during the holiday season can be found at an airport. The anticipation, the embraces, and the joyful reunions all come together at the arrival terminal. But one flight into San Francisco International Airport delivered more than a homecoming for one family. It was a miracle.
“Nine months later, I’m home, back to my kids, back to work,” said a smiling Maria Mendoza-Sanchez.
Mendoza-Sanchez was working as an oncology nurse at Oakland’s Highland Hospital and raising her four children when she was selected for deportation in 2017 under the Trump Administration’s more aggressive immigration policy.
Senator Diane Feinstein tried to stop her deportation, but Mendoza-Sanchez was forced to leave August 2017.
“I’m glad I didn’t turn around. I saw the video later of my children crying and seeing them in pain, I don’t know if I could have left,” said Mendoza-Sanchez.
The eldest daughter, 24 year-old Vianney Sanchez, was charged with caring for her younger siblings.
“It was very difficult to take on that motherly role, because at the same time, I’m their kid too and I lost my parents too,” said Vianney.
“For a long time, I didn’t allow myself to feel that sadness. I took on basically ensuring they were okay. All my life, my mom supported me and cared for me, so I was going to make damn sure I was going to take care of her kids while she wasn’t there.”
Mendoza-Sanchez said she and her husband moved in with family in Mexico and two of her children flew down to visit during the separation. The time apart, however, was emotionally painful, with parents missing several important milestones in their children’s lives.
“I graduated and they weren’t there,” said a tearful Melin Sanchez.
“All my friends were celebrating with their families and I couldn’t see my parents in the stands. So, when I went to go see my parents I hugged them really tight and thanked them for the support they gave me.”
During her time in Mexico, Mendoza-Sanchez continued to work to find ways to return to her family, even looking at options in Canada. As a specialized nurse, however, Highland Hospital wanted her back and sponsored her H-1B visa.
“Good things happen to good people,” said Alameda Health System’s public affairs director Terry Lightfoot.
“And we felt it was appropriate for us, for someone who has served our patients so well that we should take whatever measures we could.”
On her first attempt, Mendoza-Sanchez won the U.S. Immigration visa lottery and within nine months, was able to return to California on Saturday, December 15.
“Alameda Health System, I just don’t think there’s enough days in my life to thank them for what they have done,” said Mendoza-Sanchez
The family reunion at SFO was private, but Vianney Sanchez says despite acting as surrogate mother to her younger siblings, she nearly ran them over to reach her mother first.
“I made sure I was the first one to get the hug,” said Vianney.
Mendoza-Sanchez’s husband is still in Mexico. She said they had discussed that it was a priority for at least one of them to return to their children in the U.S.
Highland Hospital said it wants to give Mendoza-Sanchez time to reunite and celebrate with her family before returning to work.
Mendoza-Sanchez’s H-1B visa is valid for three years. She can extend it for another three years. She will be eligible for a Green Card in 2027.