She’s the ‘other mom’ to 1148 children – Sun Sentinel
In November, she had 900. Today: 1,148. That’s how many children consider Nora Sandigo their other mom.
Some live as far away as California; others, within her Miami home. They have one thing in common: they are the American-born children of undocumented parents. Afraid of deportation, their parents give Sandigo legal authority to care for them if immigration officials come knocking.
And they are coming now at an overwhelming rate. The families of about 250 kids have sought Sandigo’s help following President Donald Trump’s call for widespread deportations. Her attorney, Alfonso Oviedo, said he’s not aware of any law that would limit the number of kids she could accept.
“We have no choice. We have to say yes to people,” said Sandigo, 51, who fled her war-torn Nicaraguan home in the 1980s. “If this were my case, and no one said yes, I would be dead.”
Sandigo, a mother of two who owns a nursing home business and a plant nursery, does far more than just being there in case a parent is detained. She delivers food to roughly 200 families on a regular basis. She drives kids to doctor appointments and signs school documents. And she invites dozens of them at a time for dinner that she cooks at home.
Sometimes, the parents entrust their children to Sandigo even though they haven’t met her. And sometimes she’s not sure where the money will come from to help the families she already serves. Nevertheless, she makes room. She keeps an expanding database that tracks each child: who they are, date of birth, address, phone numbers, where to go to pick them up.
The kids, she said, are ready to call her if something happens to their parents. So she must be ready at any time to make them a bed in her six-bedroom house or in one of the few open rooms in her nursing home business. It’s a moral commitment, she says, to provide for the children she calls her own.
“When you go there and you open the fridge, there is nothing. Then you understand there is a real need,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where they are from, who they are, how they look, what they think, if they are thankful or not. I think there is no need to think about that.”
Fleeing war in Nicaragua
Sandigo and her husband Reymundo Otero grew up in Nicaragua, in the throes of war.
Otero, 49, was 13 years old when he was playing basketball with friends and some men forced them into their trucks. They drove the kids up to the mountains, handed them AK-47s and demanded they guard the coffee plants. The kids slept on wet, muddy floors. They ate small rations. One of his friends accidentally shot and killed two of the other kids. They bled out on the sacks of coffee beans where they’d sat.
Around that same time, in Otero’s same hometown, Sandigo was watching her classmates disappear. One of them, she said, didn’t show up to a meeting with the Sandinistas, a U.S.-backed rebel group. So they killed him, she said.
One night, they’d heard that the group was going door-to-door to take men to fight their cause. In the middle of the night, her father sent her brothers to work on a farm far away. And he told her to leave the country. So she went to Managua, where the international embassies were. All were closed but Venezuela’s door was cracked open. She ran inside and sought asylum.
Sandigo moved to Venezuela, France and then to Miami in the late 1980s. She worked for a United Nations organization that helped other immigrants with their documentation.
Several years later, Sandigo was the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit aimed at getting the U.S. to grant asylum to Nicaraguans. In response, Congress passed a law allowing in immigrants from several countries, including Nicaragua. And Sandigo got noticed.
A Peruvian mother called from a detention center, asking Sandigo to take legal authority of her two children. Sandigo said yes. And so it began.
An epic grocery stop
On a Friday in May, Sandigo pulled up to a house in Homestead, her minivan packed with enough food to stock the shelves of the 15 waiting families.
As soon as she popped open the door, a young girl ran to her arms and a barrage of kids surrounded her, wrapping their arms around her knees. More than 30 children came to the house that day. And any one of them could come live her – maybe temporarily, maybe permanently – if their parents get detained.
But for now, she’s the mother who brings food, toys, clothes and candy — following an epic grocery stop. She and Ritibh Kumar, who lives with her because his parents were deported, went to the supermarket in Kendall and cleared shelves of cookies, coffee and soda.
Kumar bagged five tomatoes, stashed them in his cart and then it repeated 10 times. Sandigo slid dozens of chicken breast packages onto the bottom rack of her cart. A gallon of milk for each family, eggs, corn flour, the essentials. When one cart filled up, it was time to get another. In the end, the bill totaled about $450 and the food was jammed into five different carts. Sometimes she feeds 50 families at once and these trips cost her $2,000.
She does this between trips to Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers in attempt to sway them toward an immigration policy that leaves families intact. And while working with attorneys on another class action lawsuit that seeks to end the deportation of parents of U.S.-born children and establish a path to legal status for them.
Sometimes, she asks herself why she does this. Sometimes, she asks Otero how all of these families have come to rely on her for so much. So many agencies, priests, churches or politicians could do what she does, she says.
“And yet they come to me,” she said. “And I have no power.”
Desperation. That’s what brings them to her, she says.
Like in the case of Dora, who gave Sandigo legal power to care for her four children after her husband was deported to El Salvador. When he was taken, they lost a huge portion of their income. So they stopped renting the whole house and now rent one bedroom in that house.
Or in the case of Valerie and Matthew Travi, whose family was deported to Colombia. Their mother had never met Sandigo – she had seen her on CNN – when she called and asked if her Florida-born children could return to the U.S. and stay with her. They had been threatened with kidnapping in their new land.
Or in the case of Erica, a high school student in Miami-Dade County. Her mother, a Mexican immigrant, linked with Sandigo after Trump was elected because her husband has some traffic violations on his record and she fears he could get deported if he gets stopped again.
Sandigo insists she doesn’t promise anything. She can’t. Her organization, the Nora Sandigo Foundation, operates largely off volunteer hours, supply donations and worldwide monetary donations — last month from a Moroccan princess.