Blanca Martinez was born in Honduras and from an early age was destined to leave it.
When she was 1, she was diagnosed with polio and her parents, poor, overwhelmed and some would say heartless, abandoned her, placing her in an orphanage. She didn’t meet them until she was 24.
“They wanted nothing to do with me,” Blanca Martinez said.
She was a sickly child, a difficult situation for any kid, a burden made worse when disability is compounded by poverty in a desperately poor country. She loved to play with other children, but she was often sick for weeks and months at a time.
When she was 12, she was sent to Canada for a string of surgeries on her weaker left leg. She spent a year in Canada, at one point sinking into a coma after one of the surgeries.
She went back to the orphanage, leaving when she turned 18.
For all her physical challenges, Blanca Martinez had eyes that see, and she saw she had no future in Honduras. She couldn’t get a job, openly discriminated against because of her disability. She suffered violence at the hands of one man in particular, again, a horrifically common occurrence in Honduras, where there are no laws to protect women or the disabled.
She was alone, in need of medical treatment she couldn’t get, and incredibly vulnerable. So she decided to do what so many others in her country do. She headed north.
She walked from Guatemala to Mexico on her own, in great pain and discomfort.
She eventually came to the river that separates Mexico from the United States. Some ICE agents came for her and she tried to run, but she can’t run. She broke her leg trying to escape.
She applied for asylum and spent some hellish time in a detention facility. She got out and realized that part of Texas wasn’t for her. Friends in Salem helped her get there. That was almost five years ago.
Her application for asylum was turned down, and she has appealed, asking, begging, not to be sent back to Honduras.
In Honduras, she couldn’t get a job, because no one would hire a disabled person.
In America, she can’t get a job, because as an asylum seeker, she is not allowed to work. She wants to work, desperately.
“I want to contribute,” she said.
Her lawyers, Michael Martell and Susan Roses, keep fighting for her.
“She is smart, a good person,” Susan Roses said. “She has a lot to contribute.”
In Salem, Blanca Martinez found a faith community, the Essex County Community Organization, comprised of 30 congregations, that embraced her. She volunteers to teach English as a second language.
She is 42 now, receiving medical care, going to counseling for the trauma she endured, trying to help other immigrants assimilate.
And waiting. She believes more in the ideals of the United States than some people who were born here.
“To me, this country means freedom,” she said. “It is the greatest country. And I would like to be able to work, to help people the way people have helped me.”
For now, her life is compartmentalized into 90-day increments, because that’s the length of the extensions she gets from ICE. Some clergy have talked to ICE officials who have said she is not a target for deportation.
But, these days, that term is elastic. It could all end at any moment for Martinez and she knows and lives with that.
We were sitting in the living room of the American family in Salem that has taken her in and I asked her what she would do if she was sent back to Honduras.
For the first time in our conversation, she reverted to Spanish, staring off when she said it.
Her friend, Isabel Lopez, translated.
“She said she would throw herself off a bridge,” Isabel Lopez said.