Ana Herrera with volunteer interpreter Pedro Siguenza and Esperanza pro bono attorney Scott Rose

Ana Herrera, a client of the Esperanza Center, was invited to speak to the parishioners of St. Joseph Church in Buckeystown, MD on February 14. She described growing up amid poverty, violence and desperation after being abandoned as an infant. Ana qualified for legal residency in the United States under the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, assisted through the process by Esperanza Center pro bono attorney Scott Rose. The text of her speech is below.

The parishioners at St. Joseph gave Ana a standing ovation after she shared her extremely moving story.

Hello. My name is Ana Herrera, and I am 20 years old. I am Catholic and am a member of St. John’s in Frederick. I was born in El Salvador, and I am happy to say that I will be getting my green card soon. I love living in the United States, and I hope to find a full-time job as soon as my green card arrives.

But I suffered much before I came to the United States. Both of my parents abandoned me when I was four months old. My grandmother took me in, but she didn’t have a job and she was not able to give me enough food or other things. We lived in a small house with a lot of other people. I was always hungry because we could only afford one or two meals each day. The neighborhood was very dangerous. One day, I saw my cousin get murdered, and the people who did it knew that I saw it. My life was in danger, so I fled the country a few days later.

I travelled by myself over a month to get to the United States. I wasn’t able to take much with me, so I was hungry and thirsty and needed clothes.

I was caught at the border and locked in a prison detention center for a month. It was very, very difficult and scary. For the first week, I was locked in a large cell that had so many people that I had to sleep sitting up on the floor because there were no beds and no room to even lie down on the floor. I was fed only two small meals each day. Children were crying all the time, even through the night. Then they moved me to a different place where I was locked behind bars in a cell with forty other people for three more weeks. For this month, especially the first week, I was hungry and thirsty, in need of clothes, and scared and lonely. I had no one to care for me and no one came to visit me in this prison.

But then I was sent to live with my aunt in Frederick while my immigration case was being reviewed. Catholic Charities runs an immigration law clinic in Baltimore called Esperanza which is Spanish for hope.  And it sure was hope for me. It changed my life. Esperanza has some volunteer lawyers in Frederick like Scott who helped me. They have volunteer interpreters who help, too. And my green card is on its way!

The Catholic Church is very important to me. It has protected me from harm in El Salvador, and has given me comfort in the United States. I am an active member of St. John’s and a member of the choir there. I practice once a week and sing every Sunday at the Spanish mass. I attend English classes each week too. As soon as I receive my green card, my dream is to get a job at a bank in Frederick.

When I get better at speaking English, I want to help Scott and the other Esperanza lawyers in Frederick.  I can be an interpreter for them, and I can provide comfort to other children like me who have fled from violence or neglect. I also want to come back to your parish sometime to sing for you.

Thank you for welcoming me to your church. God bless you.