The sun rises over downtown Los Angeles.

“Los Angeles skyline at sunset.” Photo by Cedric Letsch on Unsplash.

 

December 19, 2022

Note: Names have been changed to respect client privacy. 

When the Central American Minors (CAM) refugee and parole program was suspended at the end of 2017, Isabel started to lose hope.  It had been eighteen years since she had last seen her three children in person in El Salvador.  Although Isabel herself had been living in the United States for nearly two decades, she had not yet been able to have her children join her to build a better future together as a family.  Isabel remembers walking around the streets of Los Angeles and feeling like life was very dim.  She had opportunities herself, but her real dream was to see her children live full, happy lives. 

Isabel had left her homeland as a last resort to care for her family.  After becoming a single mother, she sought out as many ways as she could to care for her children and meet their needs.  She had been working for an international company in El Salvador, but when it closed due to rising crime and gang activity, she struggled to find other jobs that could sustain their livelihoods.  She made the incredibly difficult decision to come to the United States by herself for the moment and have her children follow as soon as possible.  The right moment for their move, however, was painfully elusive.  

Back in El Salvador, her children Andrea, Diego, and Teresa frequently feared for their safety and were discouraged by their limited prospects.  Diego recalls how he would pick his sisters up from school after dark and worry what might happen to the three of them in the dangerous city streets.  It was a great mental and emotional strain on him—not always knowing if they all would make it back home or what might happen along the way.  Now as young adults, Andrea, Diego, and Teresa agree that, although El Salvador was their home, it was difficult to stay because opportunities for young people were scarce and everyone felt the burden of economic insecurity. 

“Palacio Nacional de El Salvador.” Photo by Mauricio Cuéllar on Unsplash.

When the CAM program was reinstituted in March 2021, Isabel remembers feeling like a light suddenly illuminated the path before her.  Her hope was restored, and she did all she could to expedite the approval and transition process.  For Teresa, Andrea, and Diego, there was understandably a mix of emotions as they prepared to leave El Salvador.  There was the sadness of leaving their homeland, the lives and people they knew, as well as anxiety about not knowing how the transition would unfold.  But there was also the hope and excitement about having brighter days ahead. 

Isabel was able to lean on the support of IILA as her children entered the country and began the process of building their lives here.  In May of 2022, they finally were reunited through the CAM program after twenty-three years apart.  After years of video chats and messaging, they could all embrace at last.  Diego, Teresa, and Andrea were so grateful to see their mother again and for the chance to thrive as a family.   

Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

The initial adjustment to American life and navigating various systems was not easy for the three siblings, though.  Everything was new and often more complicated than what they were accustomed to.  From learning the transportation and financial systems to searching for jobs, everything had its challenges, especially when language barriers were a factor.  Teresa had to find schools for her two children, and Andrea had to let go of the career she had pursued back home.  Thankfully, the family could rely on IILA staff Erika Lopez and Adriana Burgos for constant help.  The family was able to go to each staff member with their questions and needs—from resources for English language skills to school enrollment to obtaining needed documents.  They report that IILA staff were always checking in on them and see them as “angels” here to help.   

All three siblings are now working and can set their sights on taking other steps towards their dreams.  Diego works in construction with his uncle and hopes to begin another job at a supermarket soon.  Ultimately, he hopes to earn a degree in computer science.  Andrea has a janitorial services position and wants to earn an advanced degree in Public Administration.  In time, she and Teresa would love to start a business to serve other Latinos with similar backgrounds and circumstances.  Teresa currently works for a veterinary office and is studying English.  Diego, Andrea, and Teresa each also hope to own their home eventually.  For Isabel, it is a joy to see that her children are safe and have access to opportunities.  She says that she will continue to support her children in achieving their personal and professional goals.  She will do all she can to fight for their futures as they enjoy their present lives together as a family.