This story is closer to what we all think of when we envision the arrival of an illegal family. The persistence of this woman is so admirable and number of horrific things that befell her along the way (and even after establishing herself in the US) are remarkable. This one is a book and the story below is a short summary.
It was 1985 in Managua, Nicaragua in the days of the Sandinistas.
Martha had a successful career as a senior level administrator. She had a company car and traveled about Nicaragua. She had two children and life was good; until it wasn’t.
Jealous of her career, money and power, her husband tried to kill her, threatened her family when she left him and moved in with them, and stalked her. It was time to take her two children and go to Florida where her brother had emigrated.
She got a visa and went to Honduras, where an aunt placed her in a hotel and introduced her to an attorney. The attorney took $750 and left her high and dry. Eventually through the kindness of strangers she got some work and then went to a group house with another $250 attorney/expediter who abandoned her again. Through a serendipitous encounter, she met an old friend from Nicaragua and he gave her shelter for a while.
Somehow she worked her way north to Guatemala. She was taken in by a family, for whom she cleaned and watched the children in exchange for room and board. The head of household was an attorney and said he would help her get to America. Time went by. One day the child swallowed a coin, which stuck in his throat. Martha saved the child’s life and the wife used that opportunity to give her husband an ultimatum: “Get her to America or give her the $750 back.” He gave Martha the money back.
She started north with minimal documentation and was blessed with bus and train drivers who took pity on her and dropped her off before reaching a check point. Repeatedly she and the children had to work their way around the check points and then find trains or buses on the other side.
One train engineer actually brought her home for a few days to give her food and a rest.
They had to take a circuitous route up the west coast of Mexico to avoid the more heavily guarded cities.
As she approached a river in northern Mexico another expediter charged her to help her across a river. He took her younger son first, hid him, returned and refused to take Martha and her other son until she paid him with either more money or allowed him to “take it in trade.” She had no more money and refused the alternative. Her clever son literally left toilet tissue “bread crumbs” enabling her to find him.
She learned that the US was granting asylum to refugees from Nicaragua. So she headed for the US border. An American directed her to a Red Cross shelter for a while. They demanded $1,500 to stay and she proceeded on her way.
She boarded a train and finally arrived at Brownsville, Texas, the only center where they were granting asylum in 1989. She was given some temporary papers and applied for asylum. She was led to believe that she would now be OK.
She went to Los Angeles where there was a relative and then on to San Jose. She married and had one child with her new husband and was pregnant with her second, when she was approached by the INS. She had supplied her address change each time she moved and had hired a $3,500 attorney to pursue the asylum and citizenship process for herself and her two Nicaraguan children. Apparently, the address change never got through to her and so the court date for her asylum petition came and went without her.
One day she was accosted in a parking lot by several INS agents, one of whom she had been working with on this asylum issue. They arrested her and took her to a deportation center. She explained that she was married to a citizen and was 8 months pregnant. They said they had a quota to fill and it was her day. Then they grabbed her two older children, who were also undocumented, and shipped all of them back to Managua.
Her husband hired a good attorney and was able to retrieve all of them after the baby was born in Nicaragua.
By now it was 1997. She got her green card and had one US citizen child and three Nicaraguan children.
She applied for citizenship and it was granted in 2001, 16 years after her saga began.
Her daughter is in college in Miami. Her three sons are challenged by their status. They are employed, underemployed for the most part, and looking forward to their 21st birthdays when they too can apply for citizenship.