"I felt, finally, like a human being with rights"
Yesterday, the Miami Herald featured the story of AFSC Project Voice Southeast Regional staff member Herman Martinez and three other immigrant stories from the area. >For the full article click here.
Born in El Salvador, Herman Martinez fled to Mexico to escape death squads that were rounding up dissidents. In 1980, he migrated to the U.S. at the age of twenty as an undocumented refugee.
He first lived in southern California, where he worked with a local community group, El Rescate that educated and oriented recent immigrants regarding their rights in the United States. In 1983, Herman relocated to South Florida and joined a local sanctuary group, which was closely affiliated with AFSC. While there, Herman also worked as a farm worker on a tomato farm in Homestead, Florida and attended night classes to learn English.
In 1985, while returning home from a long day of hard labor work on the farm, Herman was apprehended and placed in deportation proceedings.
While in custody at the Krome Detention Center, Herman was able to apply for political asylum and was subsequently released on bond for $1,500. The U.S. government pressured him to voluntarily return to El Salvador, but Herman refused. "Had I been sent back, they would have killed me right at the airport, on arrival."
Herman was among tens of thousands of Salvadorans who were discouraged from applying for asylum during the 1980s by the U.S. government. In 1988, the systematic practices of coercing and discouraging Salvadorans from applying for asylum ended when a federal judge issued an injunction ordering immigration officials to advise Salvadoran immigrants about their right to seek asylum. (For an issue brief on the Orantes injunction by the National Immigration Law Center click here).
In 1986, Herman became eligible for his green card under changes to the law known as "amnesty." The term "amnesty" refers to measures were adopted under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), which allowed undocumented immigrants who had been living in the United States since before January 1, 1982, to apply for permanent residency.
Throughout his life Herman has been heavily involved in the labor rights movement and continues this focus of work through ongoing community education and know rights workshops in South Florida. Herman has become nationally known for his extensive work outreach to day laborers as an active immigrants rights leader in the nation's southeast region.
Herman is also a member of the AFSC Project Voice network which endeavors to promote just and humane immigration policies and an inclusive society which respects and honors the rights of all.
AFSC advocates for the full recognition and protection of the human rights of all people, including immigrants to the United States, documented or undocumented.