The other day I wrote about immigration, and I mentioned a young lady who came to our country from El Salvador as a refugee. I have talked with her and asked her permission to tell her story and she has given me permission to tell her story.
Stephanie, 21, grew up in the outskirts of a town in the southern part of El Salvador, close to the Pacific Ocean. Her decision to leave her country did not come easily, it never does. How can one pick up and leave family behind and go into a country where you don't speak the language, don't understand the cultures, and don't even feel welcomed? The Vietnamese felt that way in the 70's, but that is another blog for another day. Yet, the Vietnamese and the Salvadorans have much in common; a government that is corrupt, local politicians that hold sway over the populace by way of gangs who extort the people, at gunpoint if necessary.
This is the stifling atmosphere that Stephanie was born into, her grandparents ran a successful business, despite being extorted repeatedly by the local gangs. At one point her grandmother had a pistol pointed at her head, at point blank range. Stephanie was finding herself in situations where she ended up transferring to three different universities and yet she was still being threatened by the local gangs.
She went to apply for a Visa, twice, and both times was rejected. Apparently a "mordida" was not in the offering. So she decided to make the dangerous trip up through Guatemala and Mexico and into the U.S. With the help of her Grandmother (financially helping her) she was able to secure the help of a "coyote" (one who smuggles people into another country). She did not tell me how much she spent in order to come here, but from my experience of talking with immigrants and working on immigration issues, to cross the border can run into the thousands of dollars.
After six weeks of traveling through two countries, she arrives in the U.S. (of course after entering without proper documentation). She then applies for refugee status because of the history of her country, the U.S. government has determined to have individual deportation hearings for those coming from Central America. So she has her deportation hearing this January, 2016. She now has another reason to stay here. She has married a U.S. citizen, after a 4 month courtship, she married a wonderful young man from California. Now for those who might think this was an arranged marriage, or that it was done for her to get her papers, let me tell you that my parents met and married in six weeks time (and not because they had to). Both families said it would never last, my Dad was 26, my Mom was 18, even people at their church said it was a mistake, but they were married for 52 years when my Dad passed away 7 years ago; So a 4 month courtship is not too short in my book. So why do I tell this story that has not ended yet? Because Stephanie is someone I met at lunch one day after a Sunday Mass, when my oldest son brought her to meet us. Yes, that nice young man from California is my oldest son. They married in Las Vegas (her passport being a valid identification for licensing purposes) and we are looking at the Blessing in the Catholic Church this December.
More on how they met and how they built their relationship in my next blog.