Some names have been changed to protect Las Americas’ clients.
Araceli’s Story: A Child’s Journey
‘Araceli’ was an abandoned child in El Salvador who was passed on from stranger to stranger, exploited as an unpaid and underfed servant from the age of 5 and sexually abused by the age of 13. She traveled to the United States at age 15 and, with the help of Las Americas, she is now a legal permanent resident. Araceli’s torment began when she was just a baby and her mother was murdered. Her father gave her to an older couple who forced her, when she turned five, to be a servant and mistreated her. One of her daily tasks was to grind corn and make tortillas. As punishment, her hands were held on the hot griddle until they burned. She often went hungry. At thirteen, the couple sent her to live with an older relative of theirs as his “wife.” There, she was sexually and physically abused. Finally, the man left too and she stayed with his mother who forbade Araceli from going to school or even leaving the house.
When the opportunity arose to escape this nightmarish life and go to the United States, Araceli seized it. She was 15 and followed a guide who said she would work in the United States and be able to repay him with her wages. He sexually abused her on the way. Once in the United States, she was detained in El Paso and discovered she was pregnant. Las Americas represented Araceli and obtained a Special Immigrant Juvenile visa for her. She now has a lovely baby boy and is half-way through high school. She looks forward to a future free from abuse and neglect.
Karl’s Story: Asylum and Freedom of Expression
Karl, 25, was a student activist in Cameroun and led protests against government abuses. In return he was put in prison, an experience he recounts as follows. “A cell that is supposed to take a maximum of 20 people is packed with 80 inmates. It’s a very painful memory to recount. Inmates are starved, forced to drink their own urine, stripped of their clothes, denied access to toilet and other sanitation facilities, beaten with machetes or electric cables, forced to sleep on a cold floor in a water filled cell, and tied in chains,” he said. Karl was freed thanks to the intervention of international NGOs but had to go into hiding for fear of continued persecution and deaths.
Karl was selected to attend a university conference in San Diego but had to sneak out of Cameroun in a friend’s military car in the dead of night to escape the government’s watch. With the help of Las Americas, Karl won his asylum case. “I will always remember Las Americas as a place where my life started,” he said. Las Americas staff “made me understand that representing an asylum seeker is not about winning or losing. It is about demonstrating to someone that there are people around the world who care about you and are willing to sacrifice time to make a difference.”
Mariana’s Story: Surviving Domestic Violence
‘Mariana’ was brought into the United States by her parents when she was young. Although she did not have documents, she went to school here and married the man of her dreams when she was 17. The relationship produced two children but it was never a happy home. They separated but they shared custody of the children. One day, Mariana’s ex-husband came to her apartment and fell into a jealous rage because she had a male friend over. He started hitting her, pulling her hair and throwing her against a wall. Then he grabbed a knife and stabbed her multiple times in the chest. As he ran out, he told her, “Look what you made me do.”
Mariana survived the attack and pressed charges against her ex-husband. With the help of Las Americas, she obtained a U-Visa for victims of crime and a work permit in about a year. She still fears her husband but she feels safe in a country that protected her from him.