Cecilio grew up in San Sebastián, Guatemala. Throughout his childhood, he endured constant physical and psychological abuse at the hands of his father. His father’s alcoholism kept the family in a perpetual state of instability. Every time his father got a paycheck, he immediately spent it on alcohol and disappeared for days. Upon returning home, he would beat Cecilio, his mother, and his siblings. With little to no family income, Cecilio was forced to start working at the age of 10 to support his family. He went to school in the morning and worked in the fields in the afternoon. Cecilio hoped that the Guatemalan authorities would punish his father for his abusive behavior, but the local police failed to protect Cecilio’s family. On three separate occasions the police were called to arrest Cecilio’s father after violently beating his mother in public, and on each occasion, the police released his father after one night in jail.

When Cecilio was 15, he escaped his father’s abuse and fled Guatemala in search of safety. On his way north, he was abducted by smugglers, who locked him in a house full of migrants near the border and detained him for a month. “I wondered if I would ever get out,” he said. “I had no contact with my family.” The smugglers finally released him, and he crossed the border. He was apprehended by immigration authorities and sent to a shelter for unaccompanied immigrant children. Cecilio was finally sent to live with his aunt and uncle in Phoenix, with a pending immigration case.

Upon arriving in Phoenix, Cecilio, a minor, represented himself in his first court hearing. He was terrified in his first court hearing, as he stood alone in front of an immigration judge. Fortunately, Cecilio connected with the Florence Project, and we were able to represent him. Florence Project attorneys applied for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) for Cecilio, a protective status for abused, abandoned or neglected children. Cecilio won his case, after nearly two years of fighting, and is now reunited with his mother and eligible for a green card. “I couldn’t believe I was finally a resident,” he said. “It felt like a dream.”