Updated: Apr 13
Click here to read the translated version of the La Opinion article titled Father and son who lose everything in fire receive generous donations
(original Spanish language article is found here)
by Araceli Martínez Ortega
Published September 18, 2020
After escaping violence in Guatemala, and seeing death up close as the garage they lived in caught fire, Juan Manolo Lara and his son Tyler began to breathe easy as they received more than $ 25,000 in donations.
“The community responded by showing compassion for the father and son who lost everything in a fire,” said attorney Peter Schey, who opened an account on GoFundMe with the goal of raising $ 25,000. The fundraiser has surpassed it's goal at nearly $ 26,000 at the time of publication.
Schey is president of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law (CHRCL) and lead attorney for the Flores Agreement, which requires that migrant minors be reunited with their families in the United States as soon as possible.
Juan Manolo is 25 years old; and their son Tyler, 5 years old. They left Guatemala in May 2019, escaping the insecurity of their native country.
They applied for political asylum on May 27, 2019 at the Texas state border. But months after settling in Los Angeles, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents separated Manolo and Tyler, when his aunt attended a routine interview at their offices, and took the child.
Tyler was separated from his father on February 4 and sent to a center for unaccompanied minors in the city of Montebello in Los Angeles County. It was thanks to the intervention of lawyer Schey that father and son were able to reunite on February 14.
After the traumatic experience of the separation and when their lives began to normalize, a new tragedy appeared in their lives when the garage that turned into a makeshift home they shared with a sister and daughter in the city of Palmdale, north of the county, caught fire.
“ We came out alive by a miracle. If the fire had been at dawn when we were all sleeping, we would not be alive, " said Juan Manolo.
The incident occurred on Friday, July 10, around 8:30 p.m., due to a short circuit that in a matter of minutes ended his humble home.
“My sister was cooking when the flames started. Fire! He yelled. We try to put it out with clothes. My bed was the first thing that lit up. The short circuit occurred to one side. When we were drowning in smoke, and we saw that we could no longer do anything to put out the fire and prevent it from finishing our things, we went out, "he recalls.
Manolo was taken to hospital with the sole of his foot and part of his stomach burned. “He was barefoot when the fire started. I jumped out of the place ”. He and his son also burned part of their hair; and his nine-year-old niece was in poor health from inhaling the smoke.
It was then that attorney Schey decided to request donations through a GoFundme account for Juan Manolo and his son.
Mayra Todd, leader of the organization Mujeres de Hoy, who takes care of Tyler while his father works, and helped them find a home with a neighbor, said it was agreed that Juan Manolo will not be given the $ 25,000 in a single installment but each month an amount will be assigned to pay rent, food and other expenses.
"We think that the best way to help him is to give him in parts the amount obtained in donations," she says.
Juan Manolo signed a letter addressed to the GoFundMe site in which he agrees that donations will be delivered to him as his needs arise. “I, Juan Manolo Lara, have chosen not to use GoFundMe to directly access the funds raised for me on its platform.
“ I agree that CHRCL Inc will withdraw the money on my behalf, keep the funds in their accounts, and disburse funds to me via wire transfer as needed for my and my child's living expenses, including rent, food, transportation , etc.
In an interview with La Opinion , Manolo confessed to feeling very happy with the help that the community gave him through donations.
“I feel calmer because I already have a place to live. The truth is that I was already very desperate even thinking of returning to Guatemala, even though that means putting my life at risk. But the thing is that so many misfortunes happened to me that I wondered if it had been the right thing to do to escape to the United States, "he says.
However, thanks to the proceeds, he already sees the future with greater optimism. "My dream is to fix my papers in this country so that my son and I can have a better life."
Attorney Schey said that by April of next year, Juan Manolo and his son Tyler have an interview in court for their asylum case.
" I cannot assure you that they will be granted asylum but we have reasonable chances ," said the experienced defender.