Stories of Change

(stock photo has been used to protect client's identity)

Raul’s Silver Lining

Trigger Warning:  This story mentions instances of sexual abuse, child abuse, kidnapping and human trafficking.

For most people seeking asylum, the journey to a safe home requires an incredible amount of trust and hope. This is especially true for unaccompanied immigrant minors, whose age and lack of companionship make them more vulnerable in an already dangerous situation.

For Raul,* trusting people has always been complicated. Growing up in Honduras, Raul experienced constant harassment from local gangs, who were trying to recruit him, before he even reached his late teens. He lived his life on guard and constantly had to watch his back. After getting kidnapped for two days by the same gang threatening him, Raul realized his life was in danger so he made the difficult decision to leave his home in search of safety.

Like it is for many others, the journey to the United States was extremely difficult and dangerous for Raul. After a long and perilous passage, Raul made it to the U.S. border and was eventually placed in a shelter for unaccompanied youth. Unfortunately, his troubles continued after entering the United States as Raul experienced and witnessed sexual harassment.

Raul was released from the youth shelter he had been residing in to a relative (also known as a sponsor) in the U.S. and referred to CWS to support his adjustment to the community. Following some false claims against him by his relatives, Raul was kicked out of his sponsor’s home. With no place to live and no job, Raul chose to move to another state where he found employment and was offered to live with his new boss. CWS provides services to unaccompanied children nationwide and quickly transferred Raul’s case over to a CWS Case Manager near Raul’s new home.

Upon meeting Raul in his new home, the CWS caseworker immediately had concerns for Raul’s wellbeing. The caseworker shared her concerns, “I did think it was a bit weird. This grown man has a company of his own but he has a bunch of minors, who are all around 16-17, living with him.” CWS recognizes the unique vulnerabilities of these youth and provides extensive training on child welfare, human trafficking and trauma, among other things. In Raul’s case, the living arrangements were immediate red flags for human trafficking.

Unfortunately, the team’s intuition was correct. The following morning, the caseworker had multiple missed calls and a voice message from Raul. Raul explained that he had been kicked out of the home after being unable to complete a difficult construction project assigned by his boss before sundown. That night, Raul was forced to sleep on a park bench with nothing but some cash, his phone, and the clothes on his back.

Given that Raul was nearly 18, child welfare officials initially suggested Raul check into a homeless shelter or a youth shelter but due to his limited documentation, this was not a possibility for him. The CWS team worked closely with local child welfare and a non-profit immigration legal service provider. Despite nearing the age of adulthood, the team recognized Raul’s vulnerability, history of trauma, and risk for future harm and advocated fiercely for his protection by local child welfare. As a result, Raul was taken into foster care, where he will have a safe home, access to education and independent living skills training until he is 21. He is also on the path to adjusting his legal status and will be able to remain in the United States and work legally. CWS’ supervisor explained, ”Raul went from having nothing to having multiple possibilities.” After everything he had been through, Raul began to see a silver lining.

Raul is thriving now. He gets along well with his foster father, who has a similar background to Raul. Raul now has access to various benefits and services including employment assistance and therapy. Despite everything that Raul has gone through, through his encounter with CWS, he learned to trust again and discovered that there is good in this world. Raul’s caseworker recounted something Raul told her during their time together, “ever since I came to this country, I keep ending up in the hands of the wrong people, at the wrong place and at the wrong time.” The caseworker responded, “what we are trying to do here is that out of all the bad, we are trying to create a silver lining, and be the good that comes out of all the suffering.”

This silver lining is what motivates us at CWS. When our newly arrived neighbors like Raul need a helping hand, we are there to do everything we can to give them the life they deserve.

*We have changed the name of the program participant in this story in order to protect his privacy. The name of supervisors and caseworkers involved in the case have also been kept anonymous to protect the identity of the client.

To learn more about how to identify signs of human trafficking in your community, click here.