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Utah family’s plea: give us a path to citizenship

Sanchez family Credit: Kaye Sanchez

UTAH – At a glance the Sanchezs look like many other Utah families: a father who waves goodbye when he heads off to work, two children who dance around the living room and shout about their favorite “pretty” rocks, and a mother who wipes little tears and helps to keep the rest of the bunch sane. But underneath the popsicle smiles and family dinners, the Mario and Kaye Sanchez are trying to work through a terrifying possibility: in less than two years Mario will lose his work permit and the family may be forced to split up.

Coming to the U.S.

Sanchez is not Mario’s real last name. He asked to go by an alias to protect family already in danger of deportation. Most of his siblings are in the U.S., and all of them crossed illegally while searching for a better life.

“Some people think, ‘You spent a thousand and two-hundred dollars to come across the border, why didn’t you spend it on a visa?’ It’s not that simple. If it was that easy everyone would do it.” Mario Sanchez said, “In Mexico it’s almost impossible coming from poverty to meet the requirements. You have to have money in the bank and properties under your name. In many cases you still don’t get the visa, and money is gone. In some ways crossing the border is easier than getting a visa.”

Mario crossed when he was 14. He paid a smuggler and set out with a group of twelve on foot, taking only what he could carry.

“We had enough food, but we ran out of water,” Mario said. “We had to drink the water that farmers have for cows. Some of the water was a little bit green but you get so thirsty and you are desperate that you really don’t mind. Just have enough to keep going.”

After two days of trudging, Mario squished into the back of a small truck, trusting that the smuggler would bring them the last few miles over the border.

“I didn’t know him, “Mario said. “My concern was is he going to take us to the middle of nowhere and go somewhere else?”

In 2014, a United Nations report revealed more than six thousand immigrants have died while trying to cross the U.S/Mexico border since 2000. Mario and his family knew the risks, but they also knew success would mean a chance for better education, better jobs, and a better life.

“We didn’t break a law just because we wanted to break a law. We broke a law because we wanted to provide and support our families with things we could not get in our country because of the economy and the situation.” Mario said.

He went back to Mexico just once, to see his dying father, then crossed the border illegally for the second time.

Marriage and Citizenship

In 2008 Sanchez met Kaye, a U.S. citizen who was born and raised here in Utah. She knew Sanchez was an illegal immigrant and she knew that he broke a law to get here, but it didn’t stop her from falling in love. Kaye said she thought their marriage and help from immigration attorneys would bring citizenship in a few years.

“We saved twelve thousand dollars. Do you have any idea how hard that is as a newly married couple? We saved so much then went in and they said, ‘Sorry your situation doesn’t work. We can’t work with you,’” Kaye said. “I cried. I cried because we worked so hard and couldn’t do anything.”

U.S. law brands repeat offenders like Mario Sanchez as permanently inadmissible. Tim Wheelwright, immigration lawyer with Durham Jones and Pinegar, said people who have crossed illegally more than once have to return to Mexico for ten years before they have another shot at a green card. Even then, they don’t always get it.

“These are complicated legal issues in many cases. People have this notion that immigration is just about filling out a set of forms and filing with the government,” Wheelwright said. “The thing I run into most is people saying if you come here illegally it’s easy. Or they get special treatment. That’s just not the way it works. People who enter here illegally have an extremely difficult time legalizing their status.”

He added that waiting for a visa and crossing legally in the first place, doesn’t always work either.

“The reality is that in many cases there’s not a line to go wait in. Even if there is, what if it’s 20 or 30 years long?” Wheelwright said. “That’s the same as there being no line in many people’s mind.”


Sanchez was able to use the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) to postpone deportation while he went to college, and then started his career. Yesterday, President Donald Trump ended that program, leaving the Sanchez family with the most difficult decision they’ve ever faced.

“I don’t know what we’ll do. [Mario] doesn’t want our kids to go to Mexico.” Kaye said, frustration showing on her face. “That’s the whole reason he came here, to give his kids a better life. But I don’t want our family to be split.”

She’s heard rumors of a border town with relatively safe neighborhoods where the family could visit Mario during the day. That, along with splitting up between countries, or going into hiding, are the options the Sanchezs are sorting through, preparing for the day when Mario’s work permit expires.

“We don’t really have a decision. We are just hoping it doesn’t happen.” Kaye said.

Meanwhile, leaders and organizations across Utah have expressed outrage the President ended DACA, calling it a political decision that is morally wrong. While others, like Representatives Mia Love and Chris Stewart, have urged Utahns to trust that Congress will find a new way to protect the more than 13,000 Utahns eligible for DACA protection.

“Congress should have taken the lead in crafting a solution to this issue. No one person should unilaterally determine the fate of hundreds of thousands of others.” Love wrote in a press release, yesterday.

Presidential, or Congressional, Kaye said her family just hopes someone on the federal level will step in and give them a chance.

“Even Trump said, ‘I have a big heart’” Kaye said. “This is my ultimate hope: Trump will create a path to citizenship.”