DURHAM Wildin David Guillen Acosta told a reporter he was going to jump up and yell “I’m free!” when he was released from a federal immigration detention center in Georgia.
But when he finally received a call from his mother, Dalisa Acosta, a little more than two weeks ago and learned his parents and supporters had raise the $10,000 bail money to secure his release, he went to an outside area at the Stewart Detention Center and ran as far as he could.
“I ran 25 meters,” Acosta said through a Spanish interpreter Monday evening during a press conference in downtown Durham. “I ran and ran and ran, they paid my bond. No more. No more.”
Acosta, 19, spoke for more than an hour Monday and outlined the events that prompted his parents to bring him to Durham, where they had settled.
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He also talked about the racism, mistreatment and uncertainty that roiled his emotions while in a place he described as the “ICE box,” a play on U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement, the federal agency that enforces immigration laws. But he also used the term to describe the frigid temperatures in several of the places where he was held after arriving in the United States.
ICE agents arrested Acosta on Jan. 28 as he left his Durham home for Riverside High School, where he was a senior. Since then, immigration activists, teachers, fellow students, Durham city officials and U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield have called for his release and for a new hearing to consider his request for asylum.
Acosta told immigration authorities he was fleeing gang violence in his native Honduras when he was stopped at the Texas border in 2014. He attended a court hearing on Dec. 17, 2014, but failed to show up for one in March 2015. On March 30, 2015, a deportation order was issued for him, but Acosta’s case for asylum was never heard on its merits.
Acosta said his father, Hector Guillen, had moved to Durham when he was seven. His mother followed his father to the Triangle when he was 13, and he was left in the care of an older brother.
At the age of 17, he was invited to talk about God to a youth group at a park in Honduras one day.
“One of the youth told me, ‘Get out of here. I don’t like to talk about God, please. Otherwise, I’m going to kill you, or I’m going to get someone else to kill you,’” Acosta said. “’Don’t leave the house at night because I’m going to be looking at you.’”
Acosta said he received a text message two days later from the guy who was threatening him, but he doesn’t know how he got his phone number.
“At that point, I told my aunt, and she told my mom and let her know what had happened,” he said.
Less than a week later, Acosta’s parents made arrangements for him to come to the U.S. His first stop was in Guatemala, where police took his money. Then on to Mexico, where the federals “took what we had,” he said.
When he arrived at the U.S. border, where he thought things would be easier, he says he was placed in a freezing “ICE Box” for eight days without sunlight. Then he said he was “sent to another place.”
“It was still very cold. There were many of us,” he said. “I had to sleep on the floor for 15 days.”
Acosta said the six months since his arrest were filled with instances of racism, partly as a consequence of a racial hierarchy with white officers, African-American employees and largely Hispanic detainees.
He talked about finding worms in his food three times and being placed in solitary confinement because he helped a friend write a letter to his English-speaking girlfriend.
But he also talked about the encouragement he received from his fellow detainees, an ICE officer who told him he would “get out one day” and his supporters in Durham.
“I thank from the bottom of my heart all the people who helped me,” he said.