Elias* was 16 when he arrived in the U.S. from Guatemala as an unaccompanied minor. He’d taken the risky journey hoping to reconnect with his mother stateside, whom he hadn’t seen since birth. Upon arriving in the D.C. area, Elias connected with Ayuda for a helping hand with his goals: enrolling in school, getting health insurance, and securing his legal status.  

But at home, Elias was not having the happy reunion he’d imagined with his mom. She was forcing him to work in demolition and confiscating all of his earnings. She cycled through threats to kick him out of the house, frequently taking his phone to ensure he couldn’t reach his safety net.  

After several months, Elias took the challenging step of recognizing his mother’s behavior for what it was: Labor trafficking and abuse. He confided to his Ayuda case manager, who immediately reported the treatment to Child Protective Services (CPS) and began working to get him out of his home.  

Finding Elias safe shelter, however, was a challenge in itself. He desperately needed refuge from his mother’s house, but many emergency housing programs only have beds for women or survivors of sex trafficking. His case manager knocked on dozens of doors, to no avail. Finally, Ayuda was able to pay for Elias’ stay at a hotel while coordinating a more long-term solution.  

Elias was understandably scared but remained unshakeable throughout the process – never losing his infectious sense of humor. He put Ayuda in touch with his uncle based in the Midwest, who was more than willing to provide his nephew a safe home. After coordinating between CPS, Elias’ mom, and his school, our case manager purchased him a bus ticket, a winter coat, and food for the journey. Finally, Elias and the case manager made a safety plan for travelling and future communications with his mother.  

Today, Elias has been living with his uncle for over a year. He’s attending high school, has a job, and is working with a local immigration attorney. Most importantly, Elias reports feeling happier and much more peaceful in his new home.  

*Name and photo have been changed to protect our client’s privacy.  

A young immigrant boarding a bus after receiving support.