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One Family Remembers Dianne Feinstein's Assistance During a Difficult Time

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A group of people pose for a photo in front of a large bridge over a body of water.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (center) poses with the Mendoza family on the San Francisco waterfront in February 2019, after Maria Mendoza returned from Mexico on a work visa. Feinstein offered Vianney Mendoza (right) an internship in her district office shortly thereafter. (Courtesy of María Mendoza)

As Sen. Dianne Feinstein is being eulogized for her long career in elected office, and her impact on gun control, water policy and other political issues, one Oakland family is remembering a more personal side of the late Senator.

In 2013, Highland Hospital oncology nurse María Mendoza reached out to Feinstein’s office for help when she and her husband Eusebio Sánchez, a truck driver, were at risk of deportation to Mexico. Feinstein advocated vigorously, even sponsoring a private bill, to keep the parents in the U.S. with their four children.

But the bill failed and, in August 2017, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement warned the parents they would be deported.

Vianney Mendoza, now 29, remembers getting a call from the Senator’s staff the day before her parents were to board a plane. They were startled to hear that Feinstein was going to pay them a visit.

“We were confused because we didn’t know what they meant. And it turned out that the senator had her staff drive her from her office in San Francisco all the way to our little neighborhood in East Oakland,” said Vianney. “She came into our house, took my mother by the hand, and let her know, ‘I’m sorry that I couldn’t stop this. But your kids are going to be okay. I promise you that they’re going to be okay.’ And she hugged my mom. She hugged us.”

A group of people sit on a sofa indoors and smile for the camera.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (second from left) visited María Mendoza and her family at their home in Oakland in August 2017, the day before she and her husband flew to Mexico in the face of deportation. (Courtesy of María Mendoza)

Vianney said she was struck that Feinstein was not there for media recognition or to make a public statement, but because these were her constituents.

“She made my family feel like we mattered,” she said. “She made us feel like we did belong here.”

That fall, as Vianney, a new graduate from UC Santa Cruz, was struggling to raise her younger sisters, she got another call: Feinstein invited them to join her family’s Thanksgiving dinner in San Francisco.

“I’ll never forget me and my siblings scrambling to think of what we were going to wear to such an event,” she recalled. “It was an intimate setting. And for the entertainment, she hired a magician. So before dinner, we all saw a magic show in her living room.”

With Feinstein’s help, a year and a half later, María Mendoza was able to return to California and her job at Highland Hospital on an H-1B visa, a temporary visa for skilled workers. Shortly afterward, in February 2019, the senator invited María to be her guest at President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech in Washington, D.C.

“Senator Feinstein was the answer to my prayers,” María said Friday. “From the first time I reached out to her for help, she was there for us. … She will forever live in my heart.”

Two people hug and pose for the camera in an indoor setting.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (left) poses with María Mendoza in her Washington, DC office before the State of the Union speech in February 2019, after Mendoza, an oncology nurse at Highland Hospital in Oakland, was able to return to the US on an H-1B visa. (Courtesy of María Mendoza)

Some time later, the Senator invited the family to lunch at Water Bar, a seafood restaurant on San Francisco’s Embarcadero. Vianney recalled that Feinstein turned to her during the meal and asked her what she wanted to do with her life, now that her mother was home and she could think about her own plans again.

“That was a very daunting question to be asked by a Senator,” said Vianney, who has temporary immigration status through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. “I didn’t have too much of an answer, but I just let her know that I want to use my experience of what we went through to help people in my community.”

Vianney said Feinstein gave it some thought, then turned to her staff and asked if there were any openings in her district office. Shortly afterwards, Vianney was offered an internship.

That experience enabled Vianney to land a job at the Alameda County District Attorney’s office, where she still works today, assisting crime victims and their families.

“The senator is someone who, to this day I hold near and dear to my heart,” she said. “She truly demonstrated to me the impact that one person can have.”


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