Threatened and harassed by local gangs after their mother died, 23-year-old Rocio Martinez fled from Honduras with two sisters in search of a safer place to call home.
But she said she encountered a new kind of fear when she arrived in New Orleans two years ago as she began the underground life of an undocumented immigrant constantly worried about deportation.
Martinez has come out of the shadows to share her story. She is part of a group of 100 immigrant woman from around the country in the midst of a 100-mile walk from Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C., in attempt to humanize the contentious debate over immigration reform in the United States.
"I hope this sends a message to all people who don't know what it likes to be an immigrant," Martinez said.
They timed their 100 Women 100 Mile pilgrimage — organized by the group We Belong Together — to coincide with the much-anticipated trip of Pope Francis to several U.S. cities this week. They are trying to echo his call for countries to have more compassion for and open arms to immigrants. The first pope from Latin America is expected to make it a major point during his visit.
"This is about positively echoing the pope's moral message on immigration," said Rosie Brown, a 25-year-old who has helped coordinate the walk.
The women started their journey at a detention center in York, Pa., where many undocumented immigrants end up as they await deportation hearings. They plan to arrive at the White House on Tuesday.
They wore T-shirts with the message "dignity for immigrants" and sang spiritual songs in Spanish as they walked. One donned the shoes she wore across the border. Another pushed her daughter in a stroller. The women walk 9 to 14 miles a day, taking breaks along the way and staying the night in hotels, hostels or churches.
On Saturday — the fifth day of their 10-day trek — the women ambled from Goucher College in Towson, heading down Dulaney Valley and York roads until they reached downtown Baltimore. Residents in an apartment complex blew kisses and shouted support. Cars honked in solidarity.
Local community groups, including the immigrant advocacy group CASA and students from the Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Fells Point, joined the women for the Baltimore leg of the trip.
Lydia Walther-Rodriguez, a community organizer with CASA, said she frequently hears stories of families split or worried about getting separated because of deportation.
"We are here to support these woman because what they have experienced we hear about everyday," she said.
The woman get sweaty and tired in the day's heat. Many have developed blisters. But they keep on moving.
"We have a lot of hope," said Maria Morales, who came to the United States 25 years ago from Mexico and now lives in Oakland, Calif. "That is what keeps us going."
Rosario Reyes thought about the son she left behind in El Salvador, whom she hasn't seen since she came to the United States to join her husband in 2004. She lives undocumented in Gaithersburg, where she works as a nanny.
"I have a dream to one day have my family back together," she said.
Martinez was taken into custody and jailed almost immediately after arriving in New Orleans and sat behind bars for nearly two months. She now works cleaning houses, but awaits a deportation hearing scheduled for February. She worries she will be sent back to her homeland. Her sisters already face deportation after court hearings didn't go their way.
Her dream is to go to college and become a dentist. Perhaps, she hopes, the pope will hear her cries and somehow make it easier to reach that milestone.