CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sometime in the coming weeks or months -- there is no set timeline -- somebody in a government office in Falls Church, Va., will decide the fate of Stella Sanchez and her Boone County family.
That person, one of the 15 members of the Board of Immigration Appeals, will have never met Sanchez or her husband, Erling, whose case is being decided. The person will instead render judgment based on dueling packets of information mailed by Sanchez and the Department of Homeland Security.
Erling Amado Lagos-Sanchez of Whitesville is being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the York County Prison, in York, Pa.
On July 19, his family appealed his case to the Board of Immigration Appeals but, unless the board intervenes, Lagos-Sanchez will be deported to his native Honduras, leaving behind his American-born wife and his three American-born children, Xavier, 5, Ellie, 2, and Amanda, 2 months.
In 2005, Lagos-Sanchez came into this country illegally. He has broken laws here. He has also lived here for more than eight years. He is raising three American children and he has become a beloved member of a small West Virginia community.
He is one of about 11 million undocumented immigrants living in America.
The U.S. Senate recently passed a comprehensive immigration-reform bill that, among other things, would create a 13-year path to citizenship for most undocumented immigrants in the country.
That bill's fate in the U.S. House of Representatives is uncertain.
On Wednesday, the White House held a conference call with reporters to tout the economic benefits of immigration reform, saying it will raise the GDP and reduce the deficit.
The next day, Senate Republicans sent out a news release rebutting those claims, saying immigration reform would lower wages for working people.
Beneath the dueling economic claims, though, immigration reform is the story of immigrants -- and every immigrant's story is a human story, not a statistical one.
Eugene Ranson, Stella Sanchez's father and the former chief of the Chesapeake Police Department, doesn't think either side cares much about helping his son-in-law.
"Give me your tired, your poor, your oppressed," Ranson said, citing the inscription on the Statue of Liberty. "No, it seems like, in this country today, it's give me your rich, your nuclear physicists; don't give me your oppressed who will scrub commodes. He's a doggone good tile layer."
Stella Sanchez was born with muscular dystrophy and will need surgery to help her walk -- a surgery she can't get if her husband isn't around to take care of the kids.
This is her husband's story.
When he was a child, Lagos-Sanchez's family owned a shoe store in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, and was, financially, fairly well off for the area.
When he was 12 years old, members of a gang came to his home demanding money and tied up his parents and his sister (Stella Sanchez has requested that the name of the gang not be published, for fear of retribution). Lagos-Sanchez had a cousin who was in the gang who told him that, if he wanted to protect his family, he needed to join.
For two years, Lagos-Sanchez was a low-level gang member, collecting money, running errands and making deliveries. When gang leaders asked him to murder somebody, he refused and tried to leave the gang, which resulted in gang leaders threatening his life.
He went home, told his mother that he needed to leave the country and went to the bus station to leave for Mexico.
There were gang members at the bus station. They shot Lagos-Sanchez three times: in his arm, side and leg.
He hid out and recovered the best he could at a friend's mother's house. Soon after, though, one of his closest friends was found murdered, with Lagos-Sanchez's name carved in the dead man's back.
(Honduras and neighboring Guatemala have long histories of rampant gang violence. In June of this year, the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa issued the following travel warning: "The crime and violence levels in Honduras remain critically high ... crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country and the government of Honduras lacks sufficient resources to address these issues. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world.")
Lagos-Sanchez then successfully got on a bus and headed for Rosenberg, Texas, a suburb of Houston, where a brother lived. He was caught at the border and spent weeks living under bridges in Mexico before he snuck back across the border and made it to Rosenberg.
In Rosenberg, Lagos-Sanchez became friends with Ron Smith, a West Virginia native. On July 31, 2006, Smith introduced Lagos-Sanchez, by telephone, to his niece, Stella Ranson.
The two began a relationship over the phone.
In 2007, Lagos-Sanchez was beaten up by a gang member in Rosenberg (the gang is said to have started in Los Angeles and has since spread all over the Southern United States and through Mexico and Central America) and Smith received a threatening phone call from a gang member.
Smith then returned to his native West Virginia, buying a house on the East End of Charleston, and Lagos-Sanchez came along.
Lagos-Sanchez and Stella had a son in 2007 and were married in 2009.
In 2009, after consulting with several lawyers, Lagos-Sanchez applied for asylum, convention against torture and withholding of removal, three immigration statuses available for immigrants who fear for their lives if they are forced to return to their home country.