Cruz Hernandez and his wife Pabla Lobos haven’t seen their sons since the couple left El Salvador 16 years ago and resettled in Oakland.
“The truth is it’s really hard,” said Hernandez in an interview with the Post. “It’s been so many years since I’ve seen my sons. One of them was really little when I left. The hope I have is to be able to see them again.”
Hernandez’s family is one of hundreds of Central American families living in the East Bay who have left loved ones behind in order to seek better opportunities for their children still living in their home countries.
In recent years, however, countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have become life threatening places for certain populations due to repressive policing and widespread gang violence.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is one of the few immigration resettlement agencies in the Bay Area that works with the federal government to help families reunite with minors who are being persecuted in their home countries.
Through the Central American Minors (CAM) program, family members living in the U.S. with temporary protection services, DACA or DAPA, can apply to bring to the U.S. relatives under the age of 21 as refugees if their lives are in danger. The program applies to young people living in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
At the beginning of the year, Hernandez heard about the CAM program and began working on the application for his two sons through the IRC. He is now halfway through the process and is waiting to hear if his sons will qualify for refugee resettlement.
“So far, the process is going well, but my sons’ lives are in danger because of the gangs in their town,” said Hernandez. “They rarely leave the house, but it’s still not enough.”
“Gang members often come to their house and threaten them if they don’t pay,” he said. “Also the police are a problem. They broke into my sons’ home and tossed them around, thinking my sons were guilty of a crime they didn’t commit.”
Hernandez’s case is one of hundreds that the IRC has dealt with since April of 2015. While the application process is simple, the waiting period, which involves a lot of communication with the minors, can be up to a year or longer.
To date, the IRC has won seven resettlement cases.
One of the cases is Francisco Serrano’s two daughters, who arrived to San Francisco from El Salvador at the beginning of June of this year. Last month, they saw each other for the first time in 17 years.
“Our situation was tough because of the gangs,” Serrano told the Post. “One of my daughters studied at the University of El Salvador and gang members were always stalking her.”
“We didn’t know if we should take her out of school because she’s always wanted to study,” Serrano said. “She wanted to become a teacher so bad that she kept going to school while on the bus sometimes people would try to rob her.”
Hernandez and Serrano both told El Mundo that if families are in situations similar to theirs, they should seek help from resettlement agencies like the IRC.
“We know so many families that are in this same situation,” said Hernandez. “The CAM program has helped me so much and it’s so hard to have your sons so far away. There is help here so that your children can be here with you.”
For more information, or if you think you qualify, contact the IRC at (510) 452-8222. The IRC is located at 440 W Grand Ave #500 in Oakland.