Twenty-three-year-old Maria Sanchez Martinez is the former Vice President of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project’s Policy Council. In August of 2012, she was one of the first farmworkers to submit an application for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which has allowed her to lawfully work in the U.S. and consequently, has improved the her life and the life of her family dramatically. Since then, she has twice renewed her DACA eligibility.
On October 25, 2016, Maria was able to travel home to Mexico on Advance Parole to visit her ailing grandfather. It was the first time she had seen her grandfather and her extended family since coming to the United States 14 years ago. We recently were able to chat with Maria about her excellent adventure.
When did you find out that your application for Advance Parole was approved and how did it make you feel?
With the help of John Menditto (General Counsel at ECMHSP), I submitted my Advance Parole application to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in June of 2016. The application process required us to establish my family relationship to my grandfather and to provide a letter from his medical doctor regarding his health. USCIS approved my application on September 26 but they only permitted me to travel for thirty days (until October 26) and they failed to send me my travel document. John had to contact USCIS and had them re-issue the travel document and ask them to extend the travel period. USCIS extended the travel period, but only for an additional five days.
When John told me my application was approved I was excited, yet nervous. I also was disappointed at the short-notice and turnaround time.
Tell us about your travel plans. How did you get from Florence, South Carolina, to the village in Mexico where you lived until you were nine years old?
I immediately made flight reservations, which were very costly due to the short time to make the reservations. I drove from Florence to Orlando, Florida, which was seven hours of driving. I then flew from Orlando to Mexico City and then waited overnight in the airport to fly to Veracruz. My aunt, Dulce Maria Hernandez Pavon, and my uncle met me at the airport. We drove to my village Villa Cuitlahuac, which was 90 minutes away.
Did anyone travel with you? If so, why did they come along?
I brought three children with me — my two sons, Jovany Sanchez Arroyo age 6, Martin Sanchez Arroyo age 8, and my younger sister, Vicenta Sanchez, age 11. They are all United States citizens, but none of them had ever met any family members in Mexico. I brought them because I did not know if we’d ever be able to see our family in Mexico.
Tell us about seeing your family? What did you feel?
Seeing my family after almost 15 long years was the moment that I won’t change for anything. Tears of happiness fell from my eyes and from my family’s eyes. Words can’t describe how my heartfelt to see all of my cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. It was the best reunion I have ever had.
Describe a favorite memory about your trip.
When I went back to my childhood home and I found a toy rabbit I used to play with when I lived in the village at the age of nine.
Your Advanced Parole was issued because you were visiting your ill grandfather, can you share with us how he is doing?
He had several health issues including heart problems. He has been hospitalized several times due to his health from the time I requested the Advance Parole until now. At this time, he is stable, but I was happy that I was able to be with him and help care for him.
What was it like coming back through Border Patrol and Customs after you landed at the airport in the United States?
I was very, very nervous. I went through Border Control at the airport in Houston, Texas. I was afraid that something would be wrong with my travel document and I would not be admitted. I called John just before going in to the Border Control office and he told me not to be nervous – that my travel document would authorize me to be admitted back into the United States. He was right!
What advice would you have for other DACA farmworkers traveling on Advance Parole?
Don’t be scared. Make sure to have all of the documents before leaving United States. Be ready to answer simple questions like, “What was the purposes of traveling under the Advance Parole?” “What part of Mexico did you visit?” “Where do you live?” “How long have you been in the United States?” “What do you do for a living?” Make sure that you speak truly and clear.