MIAMI - Last year, the Obama administration deported 240,000 undocumented immigrants who didn’t have a criminal record -- an increase of 20,000 from 2012, according to Pew Research.
Many of those deported left behind children who are U.S. citizens because they were born here.
A woman in Miami, Florida, has taken guardianship of more than 900 of these children.
Daily, she delivers supplies that were donated to her nonprofit organization, American Fraternity. On the weekend, she hosts parties at her Florida country home.
Files of information
Nora Sandigo opens a tall file metal cabinet, in a small room that is crowded with donations: bags of fruit, canned food, toilet paper and backpacks. The cabinet is stuffed with files.
Each file holds a child's photo, passport, birth certificate and notarized guardian transfer. Paperwork for nearly 1,000 children whose parents have signed over their rights.
“What can you do? If you do it for one or two, you have to do it for everybody,” says Sandigo.
These children were born in the U.S., which makes them citizens. But one or both of their undocumented parents is being deported.
Like the two daughters of Francisca, who is six months pregnant. Just today, a judge ordered Francisca's husband be deported back to Guatemala. This puts her own status in jeopardy ... so she gave Sandigo guardianship of her two daughters and the unborn baby.
"I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Francisca says in Spanish.
When parents are deported, they have the choice of taking their citizen children with them. But many choose not to, including Francisca.
"I don’t want to take my children because here is where their future is," she says.
If the children stay in the U.S., they can receive welfare assistance from the U.S. government. But Sandigo says the relatives or neighbors who take in the children are afraid to seek help from government agencies.
Carol Emig runs Child Trends of Bethesda, Maryland, a child research and analysis center. She credits Sandigo for stepping in.
But Emig worries about what is lacking.
“She is not able, in her situation, I think, to provide that kind of protection that a well-functioning welfare system can provide. There is no case worker who is checking on the well-being of the kids with the foster parents or guardian," Emig says.
Sandigo’s cellphones ring incessantly - always someone needing something. She sees no end to the demand and says it is a government problem.
“Who is doing the separation of the families? It’s not me. I don’t have any power,” Sandigo says.
So Sandigo decided to take the issue directly to Washington, D.C. She chartered a bus and took 38 children and her concerns and appealed to U.S. President Barack Obama.
Protested outside White House
The group stood outside the gates of the White House, in matching white T-shirts, waving American flags.
Elena Marquez speaks in perfect English as tears roll down her face. She tells of her father picking vegetables in the fields in Homestead, Florida, before he was deported.
She says she's now alone with her mother and younger sister. "Please stop the deportations now. Not just for my dad but for the other kids," Elena says.
Jason Garcia, 10, also begins crying as he explains in Spanish that his sister and mother pray for his father who was deported. But Obama has postponed action on immigration reform for now.
A political game
Sandigo blames it on politics.
“The politicians asked him to delay the decision until after the elections. And he did," she says. "It's sad because he exchanged the cry and the suffering of the children in a political game.”
Both Democrats and Republicans accuse each other of politicizing the issue ahead of November elections.
So, Sandigo continues her one-woman welfare system, knowing the needs won't stop anytime soon.