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The Unlikely Advocate

Young AG university teacher becomes a national face of immigration.

As a Southeastern University student, Sayra Lozano co-founded a project to help women released from prison to find jobs. She became a leader at her campus chapter of an international entrepreneurship organization.

Between her studies at Southeastern and LABI College, she interned for a congressman, representing her home district both in Southern California and in Washington, D.C. For Lozano, that proved pivotal.

“I would see a lot of people come in needing things the Church is called to do,” says the 23-year-old Lozano, citing factors such as feeding the homeless and providing help for immigrants.

While interning, she accepted a White House invitation to see the presentation of an honorary award, White House Champions of Change, granted to six educators now able to teach despite of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. The temporary program allowed some who immigrated as children — but lacked proper paperwork — to obtain a driver’s license, continue their education, and gain work permits.

The recipients of that award inspired Lozano, whose parents, both professionals, had moved with her at age 5 from Mexico City to California.

“Their stories about how much they wanted to give back and see other children succeed through education resonated with me,” she says of the recipients.

Lozano’s family sought immigration counsel before her visa expired in 2011. Later, an immigration attorney informed her family that the sole legal avenues for her would be adoption by a U.S. citizen or via marriage. Lozano ruled out both. While in middle school she placed her faith in Christ at her home church, Templo Victoria, an Assemblies of God congregation in Cathedral City, California.

“I believe marriage is sacred,” says Lozano. “God is bigger than my circumstance. It is a shame that it is the only avenue many others in similar circumstances have.”

DACA opened the way for Lozano to attend Southeastern in Lakeland, Florida.  As a DACA “Dreamer,” she had documentation to attend the university, but that status did not allow her to receive federal financial aid. She felt bad that her parents had scrimped and saved to pay most of her tuition bill out of pocket. But she wondered if she could remain on campus in her predicament.

Lozano entered the darkened chapel and began to pray. Soon, more than 100 lights came on in the chapel. She says she sensed the Holy Spirit speaking: Just like each one of these lights is shining just for you, that's how I've opened each door and opportunity for you to be here right now.

That encounter empowered Lozano with confidence that God would provide everything she needed. Still, Lozano didn't share her documentation status with anybody, not even close friends. Many thought she didn’t qualify for financial aid, mistakenly believing her parents earned too much.

When she graduated in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership and minor in pre-law, she was in the final stage of interviewing for a job in New York. That same week, Southeastern University offered her a graduate assistantship for a Master of Business Administration. Once she completed her MBA, the university hired her to teach business. Ultimately, Lozano’s career passion is community development.

Although the future of the DACA program is up the air, Lozano felt the Lord urging her to open up about her journey. She began having personal conversations with campus friends, colleagues, and professors about the policy’s personal impact.

“Once I shared my story, I saw that people changed their perspective, because they knew me,” Lozano says. “It put a human aspect to the problem.”

She reluctantly submitted an essay to The New York Times and an editorial to The Washington Post. Other media outlets learned about Lozano, which spurred her to engage with community leaders and organizations advocating change.

Lozano met with Southeastern University President Kent J. Ingle to share her experiences. Their conversation raised his awareness that other Southeastern students in the 7,000-strong student body likewise are in Lozano’s predicament, but are fearful of coming forward.

“(Lozano) has been a significant leader in our community,” Ingle says. “She has a heart to serve. God has a plan for DACA students’ lives, and we want to come alongside them and develop the divine call He has for them.”

Shortly after Ingle met Lozano, he became a founding member of the PresidentsAlliance on Higher Education and Immigration, a group of university chancellors and presidents uniting for policy change.

An advocacy organization sponsored Lozano’s trips to Washington to meet with Florida congressional representatives and others in positions of influence. Sergio Navarette, superintendent of the AG Southern Pacific District, describes Lozano as “an awesome student and servant of God, called by God.”

“While we are a nation of laws, we are also nation of compassion, and those are not mutually exclusive to each other,” Lozano says. “Dreamers are contributing members of our churches, communities, and the nation. We simply want the opportunity to continue contributing with the gifts and talents God has given us in the only nation we know as our home.”

Lozano prays that God will soften hearts and open eyes of those who sometimes view the situation more through a political rather than biblical lens.

“We are not asking for a handout, but simply for the opportunity to do things right so that we can continue living and contributing to this country,” she says. “It’s been humbling to see how God has opened doors and been faithful.”

Daily she prays a variation of Isaiah 6:8: Here I am. Use me. Help me obey You.

She regards advocacy as ministry to help thousands of others in situations similar to hers.

Lozano joined Ingle in meetings with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. Ingle now champions dreamers, speaking to representatives in Washington, writing an op-ed piece, and networking with Christian and mainstream university leaders to advocate for immigrant students.

 IMAGE - U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz of California is one of the several federal lawmakers Sayra Lozano has met.

Deann Alford

Deann Alford is a journalist and author. She attends Glad Tidings of Austin, an Assemblies of God congregation in the Texas capital.