Carlos' Story

“Carlos” / age 41 / Central American / seeking asylum for son “Nico,” age 17

What do you do when your child is in danger? Carlos’s town was overrun by gangs and the drugs they trafficked. When his 14-year-old son, Nico, was followed home from school by a gang member and then assaulted for running away, Carlos didn’t know what to do: “Now that Nico had resisted MS-13, he was in imminent danger. I knew that he could be threatened, harmed, kidnapped, or killed at any moment when he was out of the house.” Carlos told Nico to stay in the house as much as possible.

Carlos was afraid for Nico and wanted to protect his son. When he ran across the gang member a few days later, he told him to stay away from Nico. The gang member replied that MS-13 was in charge and that Carlos would have to answer to them if he got in their way. “I had openly challenged MS-13’s authority, and I knew I would eventually pay with my life.” From then on he was careful every time he left the house. But MS-13 put increasing pressure on both him and Nico to join until it became a demand.

Earlier that year, one of Nico’s classmates had been shot and killed by masked gang members while playing cards with friends. Nico had served at the boy’s funeral service. Now it was apparent that, because he refused to join them, Nico’s life was on the line. “MS-13 would not allow Nico to resist and ignore them much longer, and MS-13 would not allow me to live if I continued to protect and prevent him from joining MS-13. I felt we had no choice but to flee [the country] in order to save our lives.” So they fled.

Last year the gang member who had tormented Nico went to prison for raping a child but has since been released. If Carlos and Nico return home, this man will be a direct threat to their lives. “MS-13 members always follow through on their threats, no matter how much time has passed.”

When RILA took on Nico’s asylum case, Carlos broke down sobbing. He had shouldered the burden of his son’s safety by himself for so long, but now he has the support he needs.

Heather Hall