When Maikol and Ronald left their house in Honduras one morning in 2014, the brothers had no idea they would never return. Their mother told them she was taking them and their younger siblings on a “field trip”. That field trip disguised a desperate attempt to flee gang violence in Honduras that killed their father and left Ronald vulnerable to forced gang involvement.
Ronald, now 14, remembers the tough journey to the U.S. “We ate nothing but chips for weeks.” The family separated at one point when Maikol, carrying the family’s belongings, was accused of being a smuggler. When they finally made it to the border, agents detained them. Ronald recalls, “Border patrol held my family in a cell for 3 days. My mother, Maikol, my sisters, and I were treated like prisoners.” Eventually, the family was allowed to travel to Burien where their grandmother lived but faced deportation proceedings.
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, an organization United Way of King County invests in, represented the family as they sought asylum in the U.S.
7,000 people in King County from 150 different countries each year receive legal representation or advice from NWIRP. Erin Lunde Keenan says without the legal organization, immigrants including young children facing deportation would be forced to represent themselves in court.
“We think that everyone should have due process and have a fair opportunity to present their case in court about why they should be able to stay here legally, stay together with their family, or stay here safely and not be deported back to a dangerous situation.”
United Way of King County supports NWIRP and more than 50 other agencies whose clients are primarily immigrants and refugees. This vulnerable population gets connected to shelter and housing so they don’t wind up homeless, financial literacy training and employment workshops so they can become financially stable, and services like driving lessons to help them assimilate in their new community.
There’s uncertainty, even fear, of how U.S. immigration policy could change in the coming months, that immigrants could lose their work permits or the ability to work legally, and young people like Maikol and Ronald be forced to discontinue their education they’ve been pursuing.
One thing we know for certain: United Way of King County is committed to supporting and serving immigrant and refugee families. We LIVE UNITED for EQUITY.
We know that with support, our diverse neighbors thrive. That includes Maikol and Ronald, who attend Highline High School and started a club to help other immigrant students adjust. Maikol notes, “It has been very difficult to start over. We’ve worked hard to learn how to live in a brand new country.”
Like their mother, both have learned English. And both want to give back. Maikol wants to be an immigration attorney, and Ronald wants to work in human rights or psychology. After being granted asylum in 2016, the brothers are free to study and live safely in a community they now call…home.