SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) — “Keeping our lives was our main goal,” said former Honduran Criminal Judge, Ely Bulnes, who refused to preside over a case that involved organized crime placing her, her husband, and her two-year-old daughter’s lives in danger.
Honduras, which is about the size of Pennsylvania, is currently one of the most violent countries on the planet that is not at war.
They were forced to leave their families behind, immigrate to America, learn English, and rebuild their lives all over again.
“Not because we wanted to change careers or because we wanted to become ministers that came later as we walked in the way God chose for us,” said Supernumerary Criminal Judge, Bulnes.
Ely and her husband, Jesus, were both lawyers who came to the U.S. with student visas. Their church in Honduras connected them with the Christian Theological Seminary (CTS) in Indianapolis.
After they graduated with a Masters in Theological Studies at CTS, Ely Bulnes said it was very difficult to turn their student visas into work visas.
“The only job opportunity in the whole of the United States – in other words, the only job God has for us was to work as ministers in a church here in Shreveport.”
The process of securing an employment visa is predominately in the hands of the applicant’s employer. They need to sponsor said applicant and submit documents on the applicant’s behalf – which is how they landed in Shreveport.
“It’s difficult to leave your country and begin a new life here in the United States. I think most people who come to this country from around the world – everywhere from many different parts- we come here with hope.”
In 2008, the Bulnes family grappled with the tumultuous process of immigration for the second time: changing their work visa to permanent residence.
Their work visas were expiring and due to USCIS’s delay they were forced to think of the unthinkable: risk being illegal immigrants or leave The States – where they’ve resided for eight years – and go back to Honduras and risk their lives.
“We didn’t want to be illegal here” explains Bulnes, “If we got in that situation everything we have done before would be for nothing, so we needed to leave the country to avoid any problems.”
She recalls her daughter was roughly ten years old at the time saying, ‘I love Honduras and I want to go there to visit but this is my country and I don’t want to leave the United States.’
The Bulnes made the tough decision to leave.
With all their belongings packed, they received their permanent residency status.
“We also feel that this is our home country and that’s something I try to explain to Americans especially because even if we are from another country; even when we speak English with an accent; even when we still love our culture; even when we have two different backgrounds. We can blend them together and we can blend both together, and we love this country as much as we love our native country.”
Now her daughter, a student in Hebrew Fine Arts, taught the parents to embrace the American culture, one peanut butter and jelly sandwich at a time.
“Our daughter grew up in between two cultures, you know, our Latino culture and also the United States. And actually, for her, the United States is her country,” Bulnes’ daughter is currently studying in Isreal, “When she was little and used to live with us, we used to say, ‘In this house, is Houndras territory, and in here we speak Spanish, and here we listen to Latin music and here we eat Latino.”
Ely Bulnes also works as a Spanish teacher at St. Marks’ Cathedral School, and an NWLA Resource Access Service Association (RASA) board member, “You know, serving others and especially the Hispanic and Latino community that back then in 2004 it was a very small community and now it has grown a lot.”
NWLA RASA is a non-profit organization with the purpose of empowering and serving the Latino and Hispanic communities. RASA provides services focusing on education, community outreach, immigration, social services, and legal/medical assistance to people in need.
She is excited about Hispanic Heritage Month and celebrations of it here in Shreveport. She enjoys uniting people from different countries like Nicaragua to Spain together, sharing different foods, music, and experiences.
Mrs. Bulnes calls America her home country and Honduras her native country but they share the same space in her heart.
“I think that’s something that most of the people that come to this country have in their hearts and that’s what really calls us to serve them, to help them, to ease the way for them because we know how it is to feel like that.”