By Stan Friedman
TURLOCK, CA (August 25, 2014) — Maria Isabel Chaparro, whose sudden deportation shocked and angered Turlock Covenant Church where she and her family attend, has been given permission to live permanently in the United States.
On November 4, 2010, immigration officials swept down on Chaparro in her front yard as she returned home. They handcuffed and later shackled her before moving her to a detention center. Two weeks later she was deported to her native Honduras, a country where she had not lived for 25 years.
Left behind were her husband, Cesar, 42, and two children, all of whom are U.S. citizens.
Ever since, the members of Turlock Covenant Church and the Church of the Cross/Iglesia de la Cruz in nearby Delhi hired a private investigator, wrote letters to immigration and government officials, and raised funds to send her children to Honduras for a summer.
Prior to her arrest, no one knew that she had come to the country 19 years earlier to escape violence and poverty.
What they knew was that Chaparro had attended the church with her family for three years. She sang in the choir, served as a translator for chaplains ministering to hospice patients, led Bible studies, participated in a variety of other community outreaches of the congregation, and assisted residents of the Covenant Village Care Center, a skilled nursing facility.
She also had attempted for years to gain citizenship but was swindled by the attorney who said he was working on her behalf. He never filed the paperwork.
That led to her arrest.
In December, the government surprised everyone when it agreed to let her return to the United States for one year. During that time, she would try to gain permanent residency.
An April court hearing was canceled, and Chaparro was told she would only have to go to an interview with an immigration official in nearby Fresno in May.
According to the Modesto Bee, the family attorney gave them a nine-page list of possible questions that would be asked. In fact, the official asked Chaparro only five—her full name, her marital status, the names of her children, her address, and her phone number.
“For me, it’s a miracle,” Chaparro told the Bee. “I was so nervous. I didn’t know that would be the last time for an interview. A week later, I had my green (legal resident) card. I think it was because Turlock Covenant Church prayed for two years, and one group prayed for three years for me. Everybody was praying.”
Steve Carlson, senior pastor at Turlock Covenant, agreed with her. “She did miraculously get her residency, and the next step will be her citizenship,” he said. “It was an answer to prayer. Good things are happening for them, and we’re really thankful for that.”
Sue Nowicki, who wrote the story for the Bee, attends Modesto Covenant Church. “We want to start over again,” Cesar said. “It was a really difficult experience. I hope nobody else has to go through it, the children, especially. We’re living more secure. I want to thank Turlock Covenant Church (and others) for the support they gave us.”