Marta, a mother of two, describes life in her hometown of San Luis, in the department of Peten in Guatemala.
"In my country, so much violence exists and there's so much discrimination," she said in Spanish, sitting with her daughter and other relatives in a room at Holy Cross Church in Kingston.
"If I didn't have children, I might have stayed there to live in poverty, but I want a better life for my children... ...So we came [to America]."
Marta's daughter, Marjorie, is about to start fifth grade at J. Watson Bailey Middle School, without knowing much English or Spanish. The family speaks an indigenous Mayan language called 'Q'eqchi.' "
"We anticipate that will be a bigger problem for the children," said Myrna Capaldi, a volunteer with the Ulster Immigrant Defense Network who has been assisting 18 families from Guatemala who have been arriving in Kingston over the past three months.
It appears Kingston is earning a reputation abroad for accomodating people who are fleeing their countries.
"One made it across first, settled here, and said, 'Hey, I'm in Kingston. I found a safe harbor for us,' " Capaldi said.
The UIDN has helped the families with their asylum applications, school enrollment, living arrangements and transportation to appointments with ICE.
Most of the families come from the same village in Peten, where locals are becoming increasingly fearful of gang violence, which has run amok due to government corruption and poverty, Capaldi said. Capaldi said some of the older teenage boys who recently arrived not only are unfamiliar with both Spanish and English, but had also never been to school before.
The UIDN volunteers and the families are hopeful their asylum requests will be approved, but it could be years before they are granted full residency and permission to work. In the meanwhile, they must continue to do regular check-ins with ICE.
Until word on their asylum requests comes back, the UIDN plans to continue collecting donations and propping up the families who are here, and the other who are about to be here. Marta said she is expecting more relatives to arrive in Kingston in the coming months.
Those interested in donating supplies, money or time should contact the UIDN directly. Capaldi said currently they are in need of at least six more backpacks for the children before school starts next week.