ALLOUEZ — The Amendola family will experience the sights and sounds of Lambeau Field for the first time when they attend the 55th annual Bishop’s Charities Game, Sept. 3. The excitement of the evening, featuring the Packers versus the New Orleans Saints, will be further heightened by what they have endured to be together. The five members of this Honduran family, who now reside in Green Bay, were reunited through Resettlement and Immigration Services of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay.
Laurie Martinez, refugee services supervisor for Catholic Charities, first met Agueda Amendola, who is originally from San Pedro Sula, Cortes, Honduras, in 2010. Agueda, 53, sought services as a victim of domestic violence under a U Visa (I-360).
“During that time, she told me that she had nine children,” explained Martinez. “Three were under age 21 at that time. She could apply for them so they could come (from Honduras) and be with her.”
Agueda’s son, Gerson Cruz Amendola, was 17 when he was taken by a gang against his will.
“They threatened him that if he tried to leave, they would kill his family,” said his sister, Ana Cruz Amendola. “Somehow the police came really early in the morning. They arrested everybody, and two were let out (including Gerson). They found out they were being held. The others received sentences.”
Gerson, now 23, left the area out of fear that gang members would look for him and kill him because they believed that he gave information to the police.
“I knew that it was urgent to get them here,” said Martinez. “We filed the application in March of 2011. By September it was approved, but the children had to be fingerprinted in Honduras in order to be approved.”
Fingerprinting required a four-hour bus ride from their home from their home in Villanueva, Cortes, Honduras. While the process to bring the three children, including younger brother Jhonatam Cruz Amendola, now 19, to the United States continued, one of Agueda’s older sons was accosted by a gang member who was looking for Gerson.
“They had a gun to his head and were going to kill him,” said Agueda through Martinez, serving as an interpreter. “For some reason the gun didn’t work or they didn’t have ammunition, but his life was spared. They thought that maybe he was (Gerson) because they look alike.”
Agueda added that she suffered from depression as she worried about her children and waited for them to enter the country. Participation in a group offered by Catholic Charities at the time offered her support. Martinez explained that people would come to the group meetings voluntarily and share their feelings.
The children’s cases were approved in March of 2012. Ana, now 21, and Jhonatam entered the U.S. in November of 2012. Agueda had to work on their arrival day, so she had to pay someone to pick up her two youngest children at 1 a.m. in Chicago.
“I was full of tears and hugging them,” she said about the moment they were reunited.
Ana added that it was the first time she had seen her mother in eight years.
Gerson had moved to another city for his safety. He received support from an American organization that assisted individuals in his type of situation. Eventually, the remaining family members in Honduras had to abandon their house because of gang activity. Because Gerson was separated from his two younger siblings, he arrived in Green Bay in December of 2012.
Agueda said that tears flowed from both when they first saw each other.
Martinez then started another process for Ana’s son, Samuel Cruz Amendola, who was living with her sister.
“The provision for her to come in didn’t allow for any of her children to come in,” explained Martinez. “Ana had to leave her son in Honduras. You want to leave the country that is so dangerous and have this better opportunity, but then you have to leave a young child.”
There was no guarantee that Samuel, who was born in June of 2011, would be allowed to come to the U.S., she added. The family had to pay several fees and expenses during the application process. Ana had to travel to Milwaukee for a DNA test. A DNA test for Samuel, which cost $700, was also required as a procedure to prevent fraud.
When Samuel, now 4, was approved, Ana had a short window to return to Honduras to bring him to the U.S. He arrived in Green Bay on June 6, 2014, and met his grandmother for the first time.
“It took us time to get to know each other again,” said Ana.
In April, the family suffered two setbacks. The children’s father died In Honduras and a week later, they were awakened by a neighbor shortly before midnight. The apartment building where they lived was on fire. The blaze turned out to be arson.
“We are thankful to God that we are alive,” said Agueda. “Our apartment was probably the worst (damaged). We couldn’t take anything out or salvage anything. We just bought some things for the apartment and we are now on the streets.”
The family members are all in the U.S. legally, but do not qualify for any type of assistance. Agueda works full-time, but cannot get insurance through her employer. She is currently working to become a Green Card holder.
The fire brought back feelings of depression for Agueda and Ana has had trouble sleeping since the tragedy, but they remain hopeful for a brighter future. Gerson is working and Jhonatam is in school. Samuel will begin 4K this fall.
“When I saw my dad (when returning to Honduras), he said that he was so happy because he knew that we had a better future in the U.S.,” said Ana. “We have more opportunities than in Honduras. I’m happy because my son is here. We are together as a family.”
“I am thankful to God,” said Agueda. “Doors have opened. Laurie has been a big help. I don’t know how I can repay for the all the help.”
Catholic Charities Immigration Services provides assistance in such areas as permanent residency, naturalization/citizenship, employment authorization, consular processing, affidavits of support and reunification. For more information, call (920) 272-8234 or visit www.gbdioc.org/departments/catholic-charities.html.