Consumers of social and other media have read a great deal this year about the plight of Maria Mendoza-Sanchez, a Mexico-born nurse who worked in Oakland, California treating cancer patients. Though she had tried to obtain a work-based U.S. visa, her past unlawful entry made that all but impossible. The only reason she was able to work and live in the U.S. was that she received temporary relief from removal (as a low enforcement priority) under the Obama administration.
After Trump instituted harsher policies toward illegal entrants, however, Maria was deported—leaving her U.S.-born children behind.
Usually, deportation is the end of the road for a Mexican migrant. Not only is it difficult to get government action on a case where someone has left the country, but having a deportation on one’s record creates a years-long bar to reentering the United States. Multiple news sources reported on the tearful separation of the family, and the news cycle moved on.
Until December, 2018, that is. In what some called an early Christmas present, Mendoza-Sanchez was allowed to return to the United States on a visa.
If only it were that easy. This is not Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in which a gold ticket hidden under a chocolate bar wrapper opens all doors. In fact, this misunderstanding of U.S. immigration law has the potential to obscure the challenges facing most Mexican migrants and minimize the major efforts it took to bring her back to the United States.
What is the “visa lottery?” Normally, this term refers to the Diversity Visa Lottery, an annual event in which citizens of countries around the world that are not well represented within the U.S. immigrant population have a chance to enter a random drawing. Winners can apply for a U.S. green card (though they still need to meet educational and financial requirements and show that they are not inadmissible).
Mexico is not among the countries eligible for the Diversity Visa. Given the number of Mexican immigrants to the U.S., it likely never will be.
What Mendoza-Sanchez received was an H-1B work visa. It’s a temporary visa for skilled workers. It is also so popular a visa that, owing to the limited number the law allows to be allotted per year, it is often doled out partly by use of a lottery system. Mendoza-Sanchez’s application was lucky enough to be chosen in that system.
Behind the scenes, however, was much more than luck. Mendoza-Sanchez found one of the most experienced immigration lawyers in the U.S., Carl Shusterman—who, by his account, helped arrange press conferences and contacted her U.S. Congresspeople. Many immigrants have trouble finding or affording a qualified attorney in the first place, much less one able to marshal this sort of public support. That’s a big part of this positive outcome.
Still, an H-1B does not lead directly to a green card, and visa renewals are limited. Followers of Mendoza-Sanchez’s situation will need to check back in a few years.