National News

Migrant mom Gabriela Hernandez just got to California after weeks in caravan and detention

Posted May 14, 2018 3:58 p.m. EDT

— Gabriela Hernandez had to go on the road again, loading her pregnant self and two young sons onto bus after bus after bus.

But this time is different. This time there is an end in sight for the family who'd fled Honduras after a gang threatened them with murder and who'd traveled thousands of miles across Mexico in search of safety.

When she steps off Greyhound bus #60592 on Monday, Hernandez does not recognize the woman waiting for her. But she has the same facial structure as her own mother. It is her aunt, who'd changed her diapers decades ago.

"I'm happy you're here, finally. Welcome home," her aunt says.

They hug and kiss. It quickly becomes a group hug as Hernandez's older son Omar joins in the embrace. Two-year-old Jonathan watches, a bit more hesitant to participate.

The aunt notices and kneels down with her arms wide open toward the toddler. He hesitates for only a second, then jumps into her arms and kisses her cheek.

It's the day after Omar's seventh birthday, the day after Mothers' Day and there's a family reunion. But the celebration is for so much more than any of that. Hernandez is relieved to finally be in Los Angeles and to have a home once again, even though it may be temporary.

After walking, riding buses and scrambling onto freight trains to travel from one end of Mexico to the other with other migrants in what became known as the caravan, Hernandez was one of the first to be allowed to see immigration officials at the border so she could request asylum.

She and her boys were held for four days at the San Ysidro Port of Entry outside San Diego, then flown to Texas where they spent eight days in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility.

In both places, Hernandez was asked questions about why she left Honduras, her time with the caravan moving north and whether anyone had coached her on what to say.

Then on Saturday night, Hernandez was asked to sign a document that she would check in with immigration officials and present herself before a judge next week. Officials put an ankle monitor on her, but then removed it. "They took it off immediately when they realized I was pregnant," she says.

And with that, she was released from the Karnes County Residential Center, southeast of San Antonio.

Immigration officers took her and her sons to a bus station. She didn't have any money. A woman handed her a blanket, sandwiches for the kids and a piece of paper. The document explained in English that Gabriela only speaks Spanish and needs help with the itinerary that listed four bus routes beginning in El Paso and ending in Anaheim a day later.

"I found a lot of people who spoke Spanish and helped me," Hernandez recalls.

Now, they are stepping off a bus onto American soil with dreams of a better life, one with education for the children and without violence. It's a new stage in her journey but it's still full of complex challenges.

She is free, but not free.

As well as abiding by terms of her release, Hernandez must depend on the aunt she is meeting all over again.

The aunt, who did not want to be identified, is struggling to provide for her own family but says she can't turn her back on blood, even if it means more sacrifices.

She raided her small savings to pay for the three bus tickets for Hernandez, Omar and Jonathan, when immigration officials called her to say they would be released.

"That means a lot to me," Hernandez says. "I have to find a job because I cannot be a burden on her."

But Hernandez already knows a job will require a work permit that will take months to obtain. She will have to put the boys in school and help them with homework in a language she doesn't understand. And then there is her pregnancy, now four months along, and she will have to find a way to pay for health care.

"I know it will be hard," she says. "It can't be more difficult than what I have already lived through."

She still worries about deportation, knowing the US immigration system is complex and many asylum requests are rejected.

"I don't know a lot about the law," she says, adding she can't afford a lawyer.

As Omar and Jonathan walk away from the bus, the young cousin they have just met notes another possible challenge.

"We have a dog," he tells them, explaining the Shih Tzu isn't always nice.

It doesn't matter. Omar's eyes light up. He and his brother love dogs.

That is one thing Hernandez does not have to worry about.

But she is overwhelmed by what lies ahead in a new city with a family she is just getting to know.

Still, she is grateful for the caring and assistance of her relatives and she feels there is another power on her side, too.

"God always helps," she says.