This story about one mother who fled gangs and domestic violence reminds us of all the courageous and strong women in our lives. Join our Stand For Welcome campaign and sign up to receive alerts when your voice is needed to support legislation that creates welcoming communities for refugees and migrants. We hope you’ll invite the mothers and women in your life to become advocates for Central American mothers like Dayanara and their children.
When Dayanara Lopez’ sister went to the United States years ago, she left her two boys in the care of her family in Honduras. Yet today, gangs rule the streets of Honduras, and soon her children were being recruited into one of the violent groups. When one refused, he was beaten and ended up in the hospital. The gangs made it clear that they’d kill him if he didn’t join.
So Dayanara decided it was time to take her two nephews and her own two children and leave. “I wanted to take them to their mother, because the people who rule my country have created an environment where the poor can’t survive,” she said.
Stories about Central American families like Dayanara’s fleeing threats and horrific violence have been in the headlines recently. Despite efforts to deter them, families continue to come because their situations are still dangerous. These mothers are seeking safety in a desperate measure to protect themselves and their children.
“We couldn’t report to the police. If you have money, they’ll take care of you. But if not, nothing will happen. And often the police tell the gangs who reported them. You can’t trust the police. Calling the police is the same as calling the gangs,” Dayanara said.
Dayanara admits she was also tired of getting beaten up by her husband, a crime that’s also futile to report to the police. “In Honduras there is a lot of violence against women. They kill women like they kill cockroaches. And nothing happens,” she said.
Her father, an evangelical pastor, was worried about how she would make it through Mexico, so he hired a man to escort Dayanara and the four children all the way to the United States. But the migrant smuggler turned out to be abusive. “He mistreated and humiliated us. He asked me to give him my daughter. When I repeatedly refused, he abandoned us,” Dayanara said.
On their own, the five wound their way north, riding buses and walking, particularly on the lengthy routes around immigration checkpoints. They slept in shelters run by churches along the way.
“In front of the shelters there were always houses where I went and offered to work cleaning, washing dishes, and doing laundry,” Dayanara said. “In Hidalgo, we worked for a man who was nice to us. We stayed twenty days, and he gave us directions to the border and enough money to get there on the bus. God always put good people in our path.”
Along Mexico’s northern border, Dayanara and the children worked for a woman who sent her boys to help them wade across the river. But on the other side, some assailants started chasing them, and Dayanara and the four children ran for their lives through the bushes at night.
“The men were chasing us, and I felt like I couldn’t run any further. My nephew was urging me on and I was pleading with God to save us. Then a car from immigration came along. ‘Help!’ we yelled. I didn’t know where we were, whether we were in the U.S. or Mexico. But they saved us.”
The immigration officials transported the five to a holding facility known to immigrants as la hielera, “the freezer,” for its low temperature. There they slept on the floor on thin mattresses, covering themselves against the cold with Mylar space blankets.
After a few hours, officials took away her nephews. “I cried. The officials told me not to cry, that they would be okay. They explained that they had to verify that their mother was already in the U.S. We had brought along their birth certificates, but they were in a backpack we lost when we were running from the men on the border. My sister called our family in Honduras and they faxed the documents that were eventually needed to get them released,” she said.
After just one night in the hielera, where Dayanara and her own two kids, Josue Isaac and Genesis, cuddled together on one small mattress to stay warm, they were transported to another facility that quickly released them in San Antonio. It was an unusually short detention; many women and children are held for weeks.
They went to a shelter run by the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), where they rested overnight and availed themselves of clothing from the shelter’s clothing bank, which is kept stocked by local churches.
And then the next day a local volunteer drove them to the bus station. Dayanara’s sister had purchased their bus tickets, and they were soon on the way to Tennessee where Edith lives. The two sisters hadn’t seen each other in 11 years. The two nephews were already there.
“The path to get here was hard, and I only did it to give a better future to my children. They encouraged me, and God gave me strength to make it all the way,” Dayanara said.
Dayanara is still waiting to hear about her asylum claim. She is one of hundreds of women who are seeking refuge and hope in the United States. Please consider becoming an advocate for women and children fleeing from dangerous situations in Central America.