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María had come the dangerous way from Central America, crossing the border with a coyote and getting abandoned at the end of the journey when the immigration officers discovered her group.  As a result, she had ended up in a detention center close to the border.  When her father asked her to come here and join him and his new wife, though she felt a lot of apprehension, because she had never known him, she finally accepted this invitation, as things at home were getting increasingly difficult for her single mom, who could not find any work and there were days she and her little sister went without food. The father promised to send them money more regularly from now on and her departure would lessen the financial burdens for her mother.   At the border, she had to stay in the detention center for several weeks until her father was able to collect her.  She was now faced with a real danger of deportation, as once in her new home, she had to face a judge in court who would decide on her legal situation. When she came for counseling, the father was trying to find a lawyer that would help them request a stop of deportation procedure. While trying to help them to find the legal help needed, it soon became clear that María was very unhappy living with her father, her stepmother and this lady’s son.  Apparently the father was deeply religious, a new situation María had never experienced in her life at her mom’s, obliging her to go to long church services every day, trying to change her normal teen clothes to long dresses and no pants, and restricting all social interaction, except for the adults in his church. He seemed zealously focused on her since the moment he arrived at home in the evenings, watching everything she did and, especially prohibiting any kind of exchange between this14 year old girl and the wife’s 18 year old son, who also shared the residence. This almost obsessive preoccupation with the girl made her life miserable. Particularly, she felt invaded when he at times would not ask for permission to lift the curtain that separated her bed from the rest of the common living area, when she was changing to go to school. Gradually, the interactions with the father started to get more threatening as he became more verbally abusive with her, particularly when she started to refuse to attend the long religious services every day, citing her need to do her homework and she started to refuse to change her usual style of clothing, which included jeans. In counseling, María begun to talk about wanting desperately to go back home to her mother, a situation that the father totally refused to accept. The father started monitoring all calls to the mother and started threatening María of cutting any monetary support to the unemployed mother and María’s younger sister if she decided to go to court and tell them that she wanted to go back, thus requesting what is named a voluntary deportation. The sad thing though, was that, realistically, she stood a very slim chance of staying here anyways and would probably be deported, according to the lawyer advising them. On the other hand, by requesting her return to the judge, she would not be penalized in the future for entering undocumented if she ever requested a visa. Meanwhile, the mother was informed by us and Maria about the situation, in phone conversations at school, to allow the girl to talk to her privately and freely and for us to know what she wanted her daughter to do. She appeared torn between seeing her daughter so unhappy, the very difficult economic situation back home that would grow worse if the father would make good on his threats of cutting any monetary support if Maria went back and, what seemed even worse: an increase in levels of gang violence in their neighborhood, with attacks on girls being the most frequently committed crime, news of which by now had even reached the press and the internet. This became a challenging situation for us in the school and consultations with other agencies were of no help in guiding us on the best way to help this girl. We communicated all of our concerns to the lawyer and she offered to start conversations directly with the girl,   unknown to the father, as legally she could request to be sent home even without parental support.  Unfortunately at this point, the father fired the lawyer, noticing that she was not supportive enough in their quest for suspension of deportation. He then hired another lawyer who would feed his probably unrealistic expectations of a favorable resolution. Maria was torn between her desire to get away from this increasingly frightening father and go back home to her very much missed mother, but to a situation she had started to fear, as the reports from the mother were increasingly alarming regarding the level of violence in her neighborhood.  At that moment, the mother started begging her to stay in the United States for as long as she could, as other solutions considered seemed impossible at present. Finally, as María turned 15, she decided that she was not going to go back home, because that scenario seemed scarier and more danger ridden than the situation with the father, which at least she felt more able to continue to handle with the support at school. The father was distrustful of the school personnel and unwilling to engage in any counseling and we were very careful not to alienate him any further in fear he would move and pull María out of school and we would lose all contact with her.  So, María continued living in his home with an emergency phone number at hand for any change for the worse in the situation. For the time being, the father seemed to decide to give her some space and allowances as the 18 year old young man, who had never been disrespectful, or inappropriate with Maria, decided to leave, to the father’s relief. As a result, the father’s constant surveillance and disruptions of her privacy seemed to stop and the couple’s tension which had been increasingly growing seemed to subside.

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