Maya K'iche' teenager discusses pistol to his head that spurred journey to U.S. from Guatemala at UMass Dartmouth panel on unaccompanied children crossing the border

UMass Dartmouth Associate Professor Lisa Maya Knauer moderates panel discussion on legal, policy, and humanitarian challenges of unaccompanied child migrants

Local perspectives on the national challenge of unaccompanied child migrants entering the United States was the focus during a panel discussion at UMass Dartmouth, today, October 27, 2014 at UMass Dartmouth's Claire T. Carney Library Grand Reading Room. Adolfo de la Cruz, a sixteen year old student at New Bedford High School and Maya K'iche' teenager who fled his native Guatemala in 2013 to escape gang members who were threatening him and his family, discussed through a translator the murder of his father and rape of his sister before fleeing his home for hope of a better life in the United States.

"We didn't come here because we just wanted to - we came here because of threats. It all started when they killed my father. They took him to a bar and poisoned him. They did this because of our indigenous culture and also for political motive. Two weeks later they raped my sister," said Adolfo.

Following the death of his father and rape of his sister, gang members put a pistol to Adolfo's head: "I was playing with my brother and these guys came up and one of them held a pistol to my head and one of them said that that's what they would use to kill us all."

It was then that his mother, who would later go into hiding, gave all the money she could to Adolfo and her brother to begin a journey north to the United States. Speaking on his journey to the United States, Adolfo commented on being treated "like an animal" by his guide and the harsh treatment during detention by the United States government. Adolfo was detained almost immediately once crossing the border and it wasn't until he was transported to a special facility for migrant children that he was treated in better conditions.

"I'm still very afraid of what might happen to my family. I'm sure if these men find my mother that they're going to kill her," said Adolfo.

UMass Dartmouth Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology Lisa Maya Knauer served as moderator. Dr. Knauer has worked with and written about the Central American community in New Bedford since 2007, and spent 2011 in Guatemala as a Fulbright Scholar.

Also taking part in the panel discussion was:

Irene Scharf, Professor of Law, University of Massachusetts Law School
Professor Scharf directs the school's Immigration Law Clinic. Under Prof. Scharf's supervision, students in the law clinic have represented Central American clients in immigration law proceedings.

Carlos Benavides, Associate** Professor of Spanish and Chair of Department of Foreign Languages and Literature
Dr. Benavides is the President of the board of the Community Economic Development Center of New Bedford (CEDC), a community-based non-profit that works with the Central American community. He is also a native of Honduras and closely follows events in his homeland, and with the Honduran community in the United States

Rev. Marc Fallon, C.S.C. and Catholic Social Services.
Rev. Fallon has ministered to and accompanied Central American immigrants in Southeastern Massachusetts for more than 10 years.

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