She is called “la Gran Madre,” or “the Great Mother.” It’s an apt title, because even though she only has two biological children of her own, Miami resident Nora Sandigo is now the legal guardian of 1,029 children. Their parents are either deported out of the U.S. or are scared they may be deported someday.
“The parents came asking me to take care of their kids in case something were to happen to them,” Sandigo told CGTN America.
La Gran Madre has vowed to care for these young Americans.
It all began with a heartbreaking visit from a pair of siblings in 2008. Sandigo had been a well-known advocate for undocumented immigrants in her home of Miami, Florida for over 20 years. But what happened that fateful day broke her heart.
“Two kids, 9 and 12, came to my office crying,” Sandigo told CGTN America. “They asked me to help their mother. We were the only hope they had.”
Their mother had been arrested by immigration officials, and their father was in the process of being deported. Their last remaining relative in the U.S., their uncle, asked Sandigo to become their legal guardian so they would not be placed with a foster family or in a group home.
Though their family was torn apart, she continues to advocate for them.
“It was a very sad moment,” she told CGTN American. However, Sandigo not only agreed to become their legal guardian, but to also take these two children into her home.
They tried every legal recourse they could. The children got involved as well, and they threatened to go on a hunger strike as long as their parents were held. In the end, despite a great effort, nothing could be done. Their mother was was deported in January of 2009, and their father was deported in 2013.
Tragic as it was, the plight of these two brave youngsters spurred Sandigo into action, and she quickly spread the word to the immigrant community: All parents who needed help could come to her.
Within several years, her family ballooned from her two children to over 1,000. While she could not house them all, she has met every single one of them, has gotten to know them, taken legal custody over them, and even provides food and toys for their struggling families through donations.
When a child’s parents are deported, Sandigo welcomes the children into her home and raises them until the parents can come back. If the parents cannot return to the US, Sandigo then looks after the children until they become 18.
“If I am their legal guardian, they will never go to a foster home,” said Sandigo.
According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the first two quarters of 2016, roughly 15,000 parents were deported while their children remained in the US.
If those children’s parents are arrested by immigration officials and are then deported, these kids are in limbo. They cannot return to their parents’ home countries, in most cases, and instead are left to be wards of the state in the U.S.
Sandigo’s support grows by the day.
“This is just a humanitarian issue,” Sandigo said according to CBS News. “They are American citizens and they need help.”
Support for Sandigo’s cause grows everyday with families and local businesses getting involved. She has even been recognized by the US Congress, and works with several other national charity organizations.
“The American Fraternity is one organization that brings us food,” Sandigo told CGTN America.
Still, her dedication to these kids is based on the idea that every one of them should be given equal opportunity to pursue their dreams.
“I consider them to be my own kids,” Sandigo said an interview with CGTN America. “I feel responsible for them—their present and their future. I would like to see each one of them succeed and become good people.”