A legal U.S. resident has been deported for a marijuana conviction more than 20 years old. Fanny Lorenzo is now living with family in Nicaragua, the country she left in the 1980s to flee civil unrest. In a telephone interview from her new home in Managua, Lorenzo said she could not foresee her predicament.
“I never thought they were going to deport me. I’m not a delinquent,” Lorenzo said. “I thought for sure, this was 20 years ago, if they see my record, my record is impeccable.”
Legal Resident Fled Central American Strife
After fleeing Nicaragua, Lorenzo crossed the border without authorization at Brownsville, Texas and settled in Miami. She then became a legal resident alien in 1995 after marrying Endy Lorenzo, a U.S. citizen from Puerto Rico.
Two years later, the couple was arrested by federal agents for their part in an illegal cannabis growing operation. Fanny cooperated with investigators and was sentenced to five years probation for her limited participation in the operation. She also repaid more than $10,000 to Florida Power and Light for electricity stolen to power the indoor grow rooms.
Fanny said her husband, who served five years in prison, was the leader of the operation.
“I was young, and I didn’t know any better,” she said. “I didn’t feel I was the guilty one. My husband was the guilty one.”
Woman Built New Life in the U.S.
After pleading guilty, Fanny divorced her husband, completed her probation with no problems, and was never arrested again. She held a warehouse job for years and saved enough to purchase a mobile home for her and her young son, who now serves in the U.S. Army. She studied and became a state-licensed dental technician. She maintained her legal residency and did not realize her conviction could one day jeopardize her immigration status.
“I thought I would be OK because I didn’t go to jail,” she said.
But after returning from visiting family in Nicaragua last fall, she was flagged by customs officers at Miami International Airport for the old conviction. Although Fanny was allowed to reenter the U.S., her green card was soon revoked and she was taken into custody. After being held in a detention facility for four months, she was deported back to Nicaragua under the Trump administration’s hardline immigration policies.
Royce Bernstein Murray, the policy director at the American Immigration Council, opposes the new approach to immigrants.
“It’s another of these tragic stories, an outgrowth of the way this administration goes about immigration enforcement,” Murray said. “No one benefits when someone who is a longtime resident and is not a risk to public safety gets picked up and sent away. There is no focus or priority on public safety in a meaningful way.”
Defense attorney Philip Reizenstein, although not involved in the case, said that the treatment of Fanny Lorenzo is unfair.
“The government made an agreement with a woman. She kept her end of the bargain and atoned for her mistake,” said Reizenstein. “Nobody knew 20 years ago that this country would devolve into a society ruled by hate and fear of immigrants. That we could deport a woman who did everything right to make amends for her mistake is cruel and heartless.”