Sandi Villarreal

Web Editor and Chief Digital Officer

Sandi Villarreal came to Sojourners in 2012 after starting her career in print newspaper reporting and veering quickly into digital media and online journalism. She comes to Washington, D.C., via stops in St. Louis, Chicago, and Minneapolis. Sandi holds a BA in Journalism and Political Science from Baylor University and an MS in Journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She has worked in both print and online journalism, publishing, digital marketing, and non-profit community development.

Sandi is most interested in writing about the intersection of faith, politics, and culture, especially as it relates to the role of women both in our pews on Sundays and in our society in general. She has earned awards both for her writing and as editor of Sojourners' online publication.

Sandi hails from San Antonio, Texas, is married to a Lutheran preacher from Arkansas, and is mom to two young kids. In her downtime, you can find her visiting local wineries, watching the San Antonio Spurs, and coordinating the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Solutions Journalism Network.

Posts By This Author

If Our Wounds Matter

by Sandi Villarreal 10-01-2018

Christine Blasey Ford is sworn in before testifying the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building at the Capitol Hill. Sept. 27, 2018. Win McNamee/Pool via REUTERS

Women across the world have broken open, offering their stories of abuse and assault in a shared scream, searching for a new normal so our daughters and sons won’t have to deal with the same. The response we see from men in leadership has been a series of temper tantrums at the prospect of having to change learned behavior.

'No Wall Between Amigos'

by Sandi Villarreal 09-24-2018
The crisis continues at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The altar at La Lomita Chapel in Mission, Texas. Photo by Sandi Villarreal/Sojourners

A SMALL WHITE CHAPEL sits just a couple hundred yards north of the Rio Grande river in Mission, Texas. While the chapel no longer hosts an active parish, its interior shows signs of frequent use. Prayer candles and silk flowers line the altar and the base of a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe. An entryway table holds dozens of prayers, written on folded loose-leaf paper. Children’s composition notebooks, filled with more handwritten prayers, are stacked in piles.

“Please watch over our brothers, sisters, and all the children being held hostage at the border,” one prayer says. And another: “Please bless our health & the children being separated from their parents @ the border.”

La Lomita Chapel is now part of a municipal park and serves as a rest stop for passersby—while Border Patrol trucks sit just outside the park entrance and a helicopter circles overhead. The chapel land was originally granted to Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate priests in the mid-1800s. Given its location—midway between mission centers in Brownsville and Roma, Texas—La Lomita served as a meeting place and “housed transient visitors to the mission,” according to a historic marker on the site.

I visited the chapel, quite by accident, during a reporting trip at the border at the height of the family separation crisis. The separation of parents and children moved the hearts—and wallets—of people across the nation. But that fervor waned after a U.S. District Court judge gave a July deadline for reunification and more than 1,500 children were reunited with their parents, largely thanks to the efforts of faith groups and advocates. For many, it seemed, the story was over. The reality is that the crisis continues.

As of this writing, 497 children remain separated from their parents, 22 of whom are under the age of 5. More than 300 parents have been deported, and many who signed a waiver to be reunited say they were coerced. Children, including some babies and toddlers, haven’t seen their parents in months. It’s likely that some of those children will never see their parents again.

Family Separation Is the Latest Eruption in an Ongoing Emergency

by Sandi Villarreal, by Bekah McNeel 08-16-2018

Undocumented immigrant families walk from a bus depot to a respite center after being released from detention in McAllen, Texas, July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

Over the past four months, news from the border has chronicled the stories of families detained and separated — many of them seeking asylum from gang violence in Central America. Children as young as 8 months have been taken from their parents and sent across the country to children’s shelters, privately run detention centers, and, some, to foster families. Now, 20 days after a court-imposed deadline, more than 550 children still have not been returned to their parents, at least 300 of whom have been deported.

Thursday Was the Deadline to Reunite Families. Hundreds of Children Are Still in U.S. Custody

by Sandi Villarreal 07-27-2018

Douglas Almendarez poses with his wife Evelin Meyer holding a photo of their son, in La Union, in Olancho state Honduras July 14, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw earlier this week praised the government's efforts to reunify some of the more than 2,500 children who had been separated from their parents upon crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in advance of the July 26 deadline. Yet as of that deadline, 711 children ages 5-17 remain in U.S. custody. Another 46 children under the age of 5 also have yet to be reunited with their parents

4 Faith Groups Tapped to Receive Reunified Families Separated at the Border

by Sandi Villarreal 07-18-2018

Rosaries sit on the check-in table at Catholic Charities of San Antonio. Photo by Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

Parents who have just been reunited with their children — after being separated, some for months, amid the implementation of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy — are offered food, clothes, toys, and other essentials and are paired with background-checked volunteers to help them through the next steps of the process.

After Viral Facebook Fundraiser, RAICES Offers $20 Million to Cover Bonds for Separated Families

by Sandi Villarreal 07-10-2018

Photo by Kayla Lattimore/Sojourners

RAICES Texas — the San Antonio-based immigration legal services provider that has received tens of millions of dollars via a viral Facebook fundraising campaign launched amid the family separation crisis at the border — today announced a plan to distribute $20 million of their funds: give it over to the Department of Homeland Security to “post bonds” for mothers being held in detention.

Defending an Independent Press

by Sandi Villarreal 04-25-2018
There's a reason why freedom of the press and religious freedom reside together in the First Amendment.

ONE SPACE WHERE I find rest, amid the noise of living and working in Washington, D.C., sits directly in the heart of the hustle: the Newseum, dedicated to the defense of Amendment 1 to the U.S. Constitution.

It may be an odd choice, since it exhibits the front page of 60 newspapers each morning, each listing the harrowing headlines I’m trying to escape. But in this space, dedicated to education on our First Amendment freedoms, I find special solace.

Etched on a large window overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol are these words: “Freedom of Press Speech Religion.”

There is not much breathing room between those freedoms inherent to all Americans, nor between those listed separately: freedom of assembly and petition.

It’s a well-placed reminder about freedoms many Americans take for granted. In 2016, 39 percent of Americans could not name a single one of them. Fifty-four percent could name freedom of speech, but only 17 percent and 11 percent could name freedom of religion and freedom of the press, respectively.

When freedoms don’t “feel” threatened, it’s easy to take them for granted.

Enter 2017. Already this year, we’ve experienced attacks on the freedom of religion as evidenced by the surge in Islamophobic and anti-Semitic attacks and the Trump administration’s failure to mention Jews or anti-Semitism in its Holocaust Remembrance Day statement (a stark departure from the previous six administrations). We’ve seen lawyers spill pro bono hours in airports defending the freedom of religion by enforcing legal protections for international travelers in the face of what appeared to be a “religious test” for entering the country.

People of faith across the U.S. and across party lines rightly have been outraged at potential infringement of religious liberty under the Trump administration.

Teachers React to President Trump’s Proposal to Arm Them in Schools

by Sandi Villarreal 02-23-2018

Over the past week — after listening sessions with the student survivors of the Parkland shooting and parents who have lost children, as well as state and local leaders — the most repeated solution to the epidemic of gun violence that President Donald Trump has offered is arming some percentage of our school’s teachers.

Dreamers ‘Are Just Like Us’: Santa Fe Youth Group Pens Op-Ed Defending DACA

by Sandi Villarreal 01-26-2018

Youth Initiates from the United Church of Santa Fe walk the trails along the Arizona-Sonora border. Photo courtesy Rev. Talitha Arnold

People of faith and other advocates across the country are calling for a permanent fix for the 800,000 young people at risk of losing their DACA status if Congress doesn’t reach a deal soon. In one Santa Fe, N.M., congregation, those calls are coming from the youth group.

More Than 100 Liberty Grads to Return Diplomas, Citing Falwell’s Support of Trump

by Sandi Villarreal 08-22-2017

Donald Trump delivers remarks at Liberty University commencement May 13, 2017. Shealah Craighead [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

More than 100 Liberty University graduates have pledged to withdraw support and return their diplomas to the office of university president Jerry Falwell Jr., citing his continued support of President Donald Trump after Charlottesville — along with a letter expressing their concerns, copied to Liberty’s board of trustees, by Sept. 5.

Subscribe