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'Worth It': Undocumented Woman Living in Maryland Reflects on Journey

Woman says safety, ability to support family in Honduras outweigh obstacles faced by immigrants without legal U.S. residency.

Casa de Maryland worker Andrew Reinel helps Sara Hernandez with paperwork outside her trailer home. (Credit: Tazeen Asiya Ahmad, CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE)
Casa de Maryland worker Andrew Reinel helps Sara Hernandez with paperwork outside her trailer home. (Credit: Tazeen Asiya Ahmad, CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE)
By Tazeen Asiya Ahmad, CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

A harrowing monthlong journey by bus, truck, boat, foot and plane brought Sara Hernandez to Maryland from her native Honduras.

Fourteen years later, still undocumented, and living in a trailer in Howard County with her two young children and several people she just met, she has no regrets.

"It was worth it," said Hernandez, who as a woman and an undocumented immigrant faces numerous obstacles.

Hernandez, who lives in Elkridge, has never made more than $8 per hour, she has no health insurance, no paid sick or family leave, no job security and no access to low-income housing.

“We have the most essential, but we have nothing left over,” said Hernandez, speaking in Spanish through an interpreter.

Without legal residency, many doors remain closed and the types of jobs and benefits that Hernandez has access to are limited. That she is a woman and lacks formal education creates additional barriers.

"All the jobs I have held have paid around minimum wage. It is hard to make ends meet. I only spend on what is absolutely necessary,” Hernandez said.

Her story is not unique. There are approximately 11.2 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States, and about 275,000 of them live in Maryland, according to a 2010 report by the Pew Research Center.

They leave behind families, spend their life savings for passage and risk being deported every day, as long as they remain undocumented.

For Hernandez, the journey to Maryland started on a bus. At one point, she found herself scrunched up in the bottom of an 18-wheeler with a false bottom. There were crates of oranges stacked on top of the compartment that concealed her and her companions.

"We were in that truck for 12 hours. There were only two small flaps where air could come in, but they would only open when the truck was moving,” Hernandez said.

A midnight trip in a boat to reach Mexico and a walk through the desert to cross the border, with nothing but the clothes on her back, would follow.

Upon reaching Los Angeles, Hernandez was provided false papers, making it possible for her to board a plane for Baltimore, where she joined her sister.

"Things were different then—there was not as much security,” Hernandez said.

Throughout her journey, she was worried sick.

"I have heard the trips are getting more and more dangerous and more expensive. I paid $4,000 to come here, but I have heard that the current rate is closer to $9,000,” Hernandez said.

Despite the challenges she still faces from being here illegally, Hernandez said she would do it all over again.

"It is too dangerous to live in Honduras," Hernandez said. "You can’t leave your house after 6 p.m. In the village you have the drug traffickers, and in the city you have the gangs."

She worries about her family back home.

"I know people who have been killed. There is no distinction between men and women—anyone can be targeted,” Hernandez said.

It was not her own safety that led then 26-year-old Hernandez to leave Honduras and head to America. Her main motivation was to financially support her parents and to make sure her younger brothers and sisters got an education.

"I have been able to accomplish both these goals,” Hernandez said.

"I gave my mother money to stay in the city, and I helped my four brothers and three of my sisters go to college,” Hernandez said.

Now, she said, she needs to focus on herself and her two children, both U.S. citizens born after she moved to Maryland.

Because she does not earn enough, Hernandez said they depend on federal and state programs that help supplement her income. Her 8-year-old son Steven gets free breakfast and lunch at his school through a federally-assisted meal program.

For 1-year-old Britney, Hernandez relies on coupons to redeem orange juice, milk, rice, beans and more from local grocery stores under the Maryland Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program.

WIC provides healthy supplemental foods and nutrition to pregnant women, new moms and children under 5.

While the additional assistance from government programs is welcome, Hernandez knows she has to work to keep a roof over her head and to provide for her children. Not having documentation has not prevented her from finding work.

"I think I am able to work because many employers prefer undocumented workers. We work very hard,” Hernandez said.

She said employers only ask what is required of them and often don’t check the validity of the information provided.

But while jobs have been relatively easy to come by, Hernandez has had no job security and no recourse if there is discrimination or unfair workplace practices. She lost a housekeeping job at a hotel when the management found out her papers were false.

"The hotel provided me with health insurance. I wish I had gotten all my tests done and gone to a dentist when I had the insurance,” Hernandez said, laughing.

None of the jobs she has had since provide any health insurance. She also has no access to paid sick or family leave.

When her son Steven was born eight years ago, she made a deal to look after her cousin’s kids in exchange for a place to stay and food. She made a similar arrangement a year ago, when her daughter was born. 

Sitting in an unheated trailer, breastfeeding baby Britney, Hernandez remains optimistic about the future. 

Her goals for the next few years are to find an apartment, earn more money and get legal residency.

"I have been paying taxes for 13 years. I don’t have a bad record," Hernandez said. "I hope I can get residency so I can make a better life for my kids."
Jack Frazier May 21, 2014 at 05:10 AM
Dang and Obama thinks Bush did it. lol
Dave May 26, 2014 at 11:09 AM
"Upon reaching Los Angeles, Hernandez was provided false papers, making it possible for her to board a plane for Baltimore, where she joined her sister." Hmmmm, I wonder why a person with such limited means would take the risk, trouble, and time to travel all the way to Baltimore after successfully sneaking to LA.....??? And if your answer is to meet up with her sister, then I wonder why her sister is in Baltimore.....
Jack Frazier May 26, 2014 at 03:53 PM
How many of our immigrant ancestors had children they couldn't afford and rely on others to support them through college? NOT MINE!

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