The Durham Human Relations Commission has asked federal immigration officials to stop deporting young people from the city after a high school student was arrested outside his parents’ home by U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement agents as he left for school last Thursday morning.
Wildin David Guillen Acosta, an 18-year-old senior at Riverside High School, was arrested after an immigration judge in Charlotte ordered his removal from the country last year. Federal officers had stopped Acosta at the Texas border in 2014 after he had fled his native Honduras, and he was ordered deported after failing to show up for an immigration hearing, according to his mother, Dilsia Acosta.
Dilsia Acosta relied on an interpreter Tuesday night when she asked commission members for help keeping her son from being sent back to Honduras.
“He is such a special son and exemplary in everything that he does,” Dilsia Acosta said. “And I know that my son is going to be able to stay here with the help of God. My son has no problems. He has no record and no addictions. He’s a good person.”
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Commission member Girija Mahajan authored a resolution calling for the “suspension of ICE raids in our local community and for the release of currently detained Durham youth.” The arrest has “generated enormous fear among our immigrant and Latino community and has also disrupted their school attendance,” the resolution said.
The commission, which advises the City Council on issues of human services and human rights, approved the measure 9-2. Opponent Ricky Hart said the issue was outside the group’s scope and jurisdiction.
“It’s sending the wrong message,” Hart said. “We are the city of Durham. ICE is the federal government. We should steer clear of that.”
But other commission members called it a human rights issue and said mothers such as Dilsia Acosta should not have to live in fear of their children being picked up while they are on their way to school.
“This is well within our scope,” said commission member Risa Foster. “And it’s having a rippling effect on many people in our community.”
Stopped at the border
Dilsia Acosta said the events that led to her son’s arrest last week began on June 4, 2014, when he was detained by federal officers at the Texas border. He was 16 at the time and told border patrol officers that he was fleeing the threat of gang violence in Honduras and seeking asylum in the United States.
She said her son was photographed, fingerprinted and held for 30 days before he was released to his parents. He also was told that he would be ordered to go before an immigration judge who would determine if he would be allowed to stay in the country or be deported.
Dilsia Acota said her son attended his first court date in Charlotte last January, when the case was continued until March. Dilsia Acosta said her son missed the second hearing on the advice of an attorney, who said because he was now 18 he was no longer eligible for a special immigration status for minors.
A month later, Wildin Acosta was notified that an immigration judge had ordered his removal from the country. He was told he could not appeal the decision and “nothing could be done about his case,” his mother said.
ICE spokesman Bryan Cox confirmed that Acosta was arrested because an immigration judge had ordered his deportation. Cox said in November 2014 the U.S. Department of Justice had revised its priorities of immigrants facing deportation to include people who had been issued a final order of removal by an immigration judge. Before that, the government focused its deportation efforts on convicted felons, violent criminals and people with three or more misdemeanors or one “significant” misdemeanor, such as driving while impaired.
Acosta may also have been the target of an effort announced by Jeh C. Johnson, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to crack down on families and unaccompanied children crossing the border. On Jan. 4, the agency announced that 121 people suspected of being in the country illegally had been arrested under the new policy in North Carolina, Texas, South Carolina and Georgia.
‘I don’t want to go’
Wildin Acosta was set to graduate from high school in June and hoped to enroll at Durham Tech and become an engineer, said his mentor, Ivan Almonte, who was hired by Duke University to work as a counselor for Latino students in Durham Public Schools.
Almonte, a longtime friend of the family, said Acosta was arrested in the parking lot of his parents’ apartment on Liberty Street, just east of downtown, between 6 and 7 a.m. Thursday. His father told Almonte that Acosta had just shut the door when he could be heard talking to someone outside.
“His dad looked out the window and saw two officers in plainclothes talking to him,” Almonte said. “They showed him a photo and some papers. His dad thinks it must have been a deportation order.”
Acosta’s father said his son realized the two men were with ICE and started crying. He said, “I don’t want to go. Please don’t take me,” Almonte said.
Acosta’s father also cried, but didn’t dare move from the window, Almonte said. “His dad couldn’t do anything because he was afraid he would get deported, too,” he said.
Acosta’s father, an electrician, moved to Durham about 10 years, and his wife, Dilsia, who now works as a laundress, followed four years ago. Dilsia Acosta said the family left Olancho, the largest state in Honduras, to escape violence and “delinquency.”
“Because of the guns, it became easy for the gangs to kill off people,” she said Tuesday night.
Dilsia Acosta would not divulge more details, but she said Wildin’s siblings, who are 17 and 21, are also facing deportation.
Almonte said teens like Acosta are left behind when their parents fork over thousands of dollars to cross Central American borders into the United States. The children who typically follow are fleeing violence from gangs who threaten to harm them or their families if they do not become involved in the gangs’ criminal activities.
Many times, Almonte said, the teens don’t show up for court because they are afraid of being deported, or because they move with their parents. Sometimes their parents pay lawyers thousands of dollars and their children still wind up being deported anyway.
Almonte said Acosta played for a soccer team with an afterschool program at Duke University. At Riverside, he was a member of Destino Success, a club for Latin students.
“His teachers and coaches have all sent letters to support him,” Almonte said. “He would tell me about his experiences in Honduras. He dreamed of making his parents proud. This just breaks my heart.”