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December 2014 Newsletter

When a Lawyer is the Only Hope

"ESCAPING GUATEMALA to the U.S. was a four-week nightmare. I clung to the top of a freight train speeding across Mexico. I ran out of food and water. I was mugged and beaten, then kidnapped by a gang.

But I kept going. I was 17 and desperate to get far from my village.

The only thing worse would be returning home.

LEGAL AID: Marcos P., who recently turned 19, is afraid to return home to Guatemala. He’s being helped by attorney Rebecca McBride (above), thanks to a Trust grant that underwrites free representation by Atlas: DIY (Developing Immigrant Youth). “Marcos is the epitome of resilience,” says McBride. She adds that he attends a support group for unaccompanied minors, where “he enthusiastically helps others—he practically runs the show.” Photo by Ari Mintz/ The Trust

WORKING TOGETHER: Our program officer, Shawn Morehead (below), with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, announces that The Trust will join with the City to provide legal services for 1,000 children facing deportation. Photo by David L. Marcus/The Trust

In the summer of 2013, when I crossed into Arizona, the Border Patrol caught me.

My older brother, living in Brooklyn, agreed to be my sponsor. A woman at church told me about Atlas: DIY, which helps unaccompanied minors. Rebecca McBride, an attorney there, took my case. At Family Court, she told the judge why I left—the true story that I once was afraid to tell: I grew up in a village outside the capital, Guatemala City. My father abandoned us. My mother, left with seven kids, tried to scrape by, washing clothes and selling things. I dropped out of school every few months to sell stuff on the streets and pay for our food.

When I was 10, my mother told me I had to go live with another family. She said the father, an electrician, would teach me a trade. Right away their son, who was seven years older, started sexually abusing me.

This kept going for years. The boy threatened: 'If you tell anyone, your nieces and nephews will pay for your big mouth.'

At 15, I ran away to the capital. The violence there was terrible: armed robberies in the middle of the day. Several times, I tried to kill myself—because of the shame, the poverty, the anger at my mother for sending me to a family that took advantage of me, the sadness that my own father didn’t care about me.

I decided that going to America was the only way out. I agreed to go into debt $5,000 to a guide, a coyote. As soon as we crossed into southern Mexico, everything started to go wrong. The kidnapping, near Mexicali, was the worst. The train stopped at night and a bunch of men climbed up, flashing guns and knives, screaming, “Give us your money or we’re taking people away!” The coyote refused to pay, but a gun to his head changed his mind. In New York this year, the judge determined that I cannot be reunified with either of my parents, and that it’s in my best interest to remain in the U.S. Now I’m applying for “Special Immigrant Juvenile Status,” which would let me study and work. I want to earn my GED.

I have a bigger goal: I want to be a lawyer, and I’m going to defend people’s rights."

By Marcos P., who is studying for his high school equivalency degree in Brooklyn. Translated from
Spanish by David L. Marcus of The Trust.

Leading the Charge

For thousands of undocumented children from Central and South America, New York City is the end of a long, dangerous road. Some arrive on their own; others are brought here because a relative agrees to care for them while a deportation case is pending. Responding to a surge of unaccompanied minors across the country, the Obama administration has told the courts to speed up these deportation cases, making it harder to arrange legal help.

Children who’ve been abused, neglected, or abandoned by a parent have a right to remain in the U.S. Those facing persecution back home can apply for asylum. When lawyers screen children and accept their cases, there’s a 90 percent chance they’ll be allowed to stay, says Shawn Morehead, a Trust program officer. “Still, there’s no right to counsel in these cases—and without lawyers, many are deported back to the dangerous conditions they fled.”

The Trust joined with the City and the Robin Hood Foundation to spend $1.9 million to help young people facing deportation. Four of our new $90,000 grants underwrite legal representation and outreach: Atlas: DIY, Catholic Charities, The Door, and Legal Aid Society. A fifth, $25,000 to Pace Community Law Practice, came from our Westchester Community Foundation. A sixth, $25,000 to the Vera Institute of Justice, funds research on the needs of unaccompanied minors and policy recommendations.

Other Legal Service Grants

  • Legal Services NYC, $90,000 to help New Yorkers who do not speak English get government benefits and services.
  • Manhattan Legal Services, $55,000 to represent Manhattan residents in consumer debt cases.
  • New York Civil Liberties Union Foundation, $70,000 to help gay men and lesbians in the City understand their changing legal rights.

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