It has been an emotional journey this week for the family of Oakland nurse Maria Mendoza Sanchez and her husband Eusebio, whose battle to legally remain with their children in the United States ended with the couple's deportation.
The Sanchezes late Wednesday said goodbye to their three daughters. The couple, following an immigration deportation order, checked in at San Francisco International Airport with their young son — an American citizen — for a flight to Mexico.
"This is the moment I hoped would never come," Sanchez said before boarding her flight.
Sanchez, who served as a nurse at Highland Hospital providing care to cancer and heart patients, spent 15 years trying to get U.S. legal status, but was unsuccessful.
Twenty-three years ago, Sanchez illegally crossed the border with her husband, a truck driver, and one of her daughters. They had two more girls and a boy.
The 23-year-old daughter she brought with her to the U.S. can stay because of DACA. The 12-year-old son and two other daughters -- ages 16 and 21 -- are citizens, with one just a year away from graduating from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in human biology, the San Jose Mercury News reported.
"What scares me the most — I don't know when they're gonna be back," daughter Melin Sanchez said. "I want us to be together."
Maria said that her children "will always have my support even if I'm not here for them."
She said she'll be available at all times for a phone call and "my heart is always here for them."
The Sanchezes case drew national headlines and was championed by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Maria's co-workers, among others.
"Maria and Eusebio Sanchez have lived in this country for more than 20 years. They are hardworking parents raising four children, three citizens and one protected by DACA," Feinstein said before the deportation. "They have no criminal records. They pay taxes, own their home and contribute to this country. These are the kind of people we should welcome into the United States with open arms."
The Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement released a statement last week saying in part the courts long ago deemed the couple was in the U.S. illegally, and their case is not exempt from the law.
In August, the Justice Department announced that 57,069 people have been ordered for removal from the country in the first six months of Trump’s presidency. That’s up nearly 31 percent since the same period in 2016 under former President Barack Obama.
Sanchez does not blame President Donald Trump for the immigration laws that have been on the books for years. However, she said the president is "taking it personally against Mexicans. This law is affecting all immigrants, but I feel somehow Mexicans -- we've been targeted. I don't know why."
Sanchez has said she will not be allowed to return to the U.S. for 10 years. They will continue to try to pursue efforts to try to be reunited with their family legally in the country.
In the meantime, her three daughters will take care of each other in the family's home, the San Jose Mercury News reported.