Blog by guest blogger, Dana Lea
Hilbea was a student of a three-year nursing program at Universidad Dr. Andrés Bello in San Salvador, El Salvador when her life was completely changed and she was granted resettlement in the United States and a chance to reunite with her family. Hilbea was brought to the U.S. as a Central American Minor (CAM) case. The CAM program was started in 2014 to provide refugee resettlement for youth. Despite the program’s termination in 2017, is was reopened in March 2021.
The CAM refugee and parole program provides certain qualified children who are nationals of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, as well as certain family members of those children an opportunity to apply for refugee status and possible resettlement in the United States.United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), https://www.uscis.gov/CAM
Hilbea’s father petitioned for her to join him in Maryland as part of the CAM program. Though he filed her case when she was a minor, her case was not approved for travel until she was a young adult. Hilbea says the basis for her claim was crime in her home country:
There were some events that put my life in danger and it was the reason why my parents sought help to protect me from something else happening. Well, on more than one occasion I was in difficult situations where I was afraid that something else would happen to me, two of which they took away my personal belongings, jewelry, cash and my cell phone. Blessed God, my parents, and all the people from the program who helped me now I am safe and very happy to be in this country!Hilbea
El Salvador sits in what is known as the turbulent Northern Triangle of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador). The United States has recently seen a rise in migration from the Triangle, many people travelling to the U.S. border to request asylum. People are fleeing government corruption, gang violence, and increased poverty and crime. The Biden administration is currently working to address the root causes of this migration with the possibility of economic and humanitarian aid packages.
According to Brookings, “El Salvador presents a slightly different challenge. The country has less presence of drug trafficking but a more serious problem of gang power over many neighborhoods and towns.” Despite recent political reform, El Salvador has seen rampant crime, killings, and violence since the end of their civil war in 1992.
Hilbea recalls the processing of her CAM case noting that it felt very safe and she was always given directions and recommendations during the process. She says there was good communication with U.S. government processing staff. Her fateful date came on November 30, 2016 when she was put up in a hotel in El Salvador and began her journey to the U.S. the following day. Her flight to the Miami was the first flight she had ever taken! She describes the experience as “unique and exciting.” In Miami, she was put up in another hotel and departed for Washington D.C. the next morning. When she arrived in D.C., her family and social worker were waiting to welcome her.
That moment when I was able to reunite with my family was a unique and very special moment which I will always be very grateful to God and to the program for giving me the opportunity to reunite with my family. And give me the blessing of starting over in a country as full of opportunities as the USA,Hilbea
Once in Maryland, Hilbea became a client of the Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area in Hyattsville. Our Hyattsville team provided her case management, referrals, and employment development. Our Employment Development team helped Hilbea secure her current job at Chipotle, which she has been with for over five years and really enjoys. She was recently promoted to Kitchen Manager and again to Service Manager! Our team is really proud of her and how far she has come.
Hilbea was driven from when she first arrived in the U.S. and was enthusiastic about working right away. Despite not speaking any English, she cooperated with her job developer to find a job that was conveniently located and matched her skills. Chipotle was willing to hire her and we are proud to see that all her hard work has paid off and how dedicated to she has been to her job. Hilbea’s story is a testament of her great work ethic and wonderful spirit. We wish her more success in her career aspiration!Tanya Vitusagavulu, Maryland Director
Hilbea plans to continue climbing the corporate ladder and to one day continue her dream of becoming a nursing graduate. She says she would like to be a role model, showing that you can do many great things if you decide not to give up and to fight for what you want no matter the cost. She advises that others should not let language impede their success in a country. She explains there are so many tools to learn from which will help others always move forward.
Hilbea hopes that the U.S. will continue to be accepting of refugees “because many of us come with plans to improve ourselves and help our families move forward.”
We want to thank our volunteer Spanish translator, Austin Akers, and give a huge thanks to Hilbea for sharing her story with us! Give today to our Refugee and Immigrant Services program and catalyze more New Americans like Hilbea to grow their unique skills and apply them to meaningful work in our communities. Thank you for being good neighbors and good friends, and for being a part of this national response to a more welcoming America.