- In Mother's Month we bring the life and legacy of "The Great Mother," who adopted more than 1,500 children from all over the country.
Nora Sandigo is known as “The Great Mother” because she has personally accepted guardianship of more than 1,500 children born in the United States, but whose parents are undocumented immigrants who have been deported or fear of deportation. Fearing that if they get deported, their children would automatically disappear into the foster-care system, and they would not see them again, they have contacted Nora.Nora fled her war-torn Nicaraguan home in the 1980s due to civil war. In her hometown, Sandigo was watching her classmates disappear. “One of them did not show up for a meeting with the Sandinista rebel group, and they killed him,” she says.
In the midst of violence, her father decided to send her brothers to work on a farm far away and told her to leave the country. She went to Managua and sought asylum at the Venezuelan embassy. There she began her journey, which would take her to France and then to Miami as a political refugee in 1988, where, through her experience as an immigrant, she found her life purpose: working for immigrants’ rights.
She then started working for a United Nations organization that helped protect the rights of the immigrant community, and from the U.N., she led a class-action lawsuit aimed at getting the United States to grant asylum to Nicaraguans. In response, Congress passed a law that allowed entry to immigrants from several countries, including Nicaragua.
“We made ourselves known as a foundation of open doors within the community, providing cost-free assistance always from the heart; a foundation of love made to help families,” says Nora. Later, families with children arrived, and they began to help with the children’s homework after school. And, eventually, a special thing happened: “A Peruvian mother called from a detention center and asked me to take legal authority of her two children. I said yes, and that’s how it all started,” says Nora proudly.
This is how the Nora Sandigo Children Foundation was born: “The organization became my home from the moment I arrived in this country. God put me on the road, and I received all the training to be able to work for 30 years for the immigrant community until this day,” says Nora.
Through the organization, parents fearing deportation signed over to Nora power of attorney documents which do not confer complete legal guardianship or parental rights over them. Instead, they provide a lifeline for families and give Nora time to ensure the children’s safety in case one or both parents are detained by immigration authorities.
Through this document, if one of their biological parents is not present, Nora can make decisions for children on issues related to their education, their health, when they travel or leave the country or when they need representation at school, among other situations.
Sandigo has been taking guardianship of children since 2006. She does not take care for all of them at once. Many live with a parent or family friend and get in touch with her when they need her help. She has had only a handful of cases in which both parents have been deported and has taken their children to live with her family with her husband and their two daughters.
“Five children have lived with my family and me for more than 12 years until they have graduated from school or have reached adulthood. My husband and I consider them our children, and my two daughters consider them their siblings.”
Currently, Sandigo and the foundation are raising funds to buy land to build a center. She says it would house around 100 children in need, those who are orphaned and often suffer the psychological effects of a separated family.
Haz clic para leer en Español: Nora Sandigo, “La Gran Madre”