Surrounded by dozens of supporters, Delsia Acosta pleaded with the Durham Human Relations Commission Wednesday night to help her son avoid deportation to his native Honduras.
“If he is deported, he will most certainly be killed because the gangs were after him,” she said through an interpreter. “This has left a void in my heart.”
After nearly an hour of deliberation, the commission voted 9-2 for a resolution in support of the family of 19-year-old Wildin David Guile Acosta. Commissioners Dick Ford and Ricky Hart voted against the measure; Chairman Phil Seib abstained.
“It’s a heartbreaking case,” Seib said before the vote. “No family should be separated. If I could say that he could be home in your house tonight, I would do that. But I don’t have the power to do that.”
The resolution asks federal immigration authorities to exercise prosecutorial discretion in the Riverside High School student’s case. The statement added that families should not be separated and noted the dangers Acosta faces if he is deported.
The resolution will go to City Council, which could vote on it as early as Thursday.
Acosta came to the U.S. illegally in 2014 from his native Honduras, where he was fleeing gang violence. A week ago, authorities from Immigration and Customs Enforcement apprehended him as he left his home to attend school. His detainment is part of President Barack Obama’s immigration policy that targets immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally after Jan. 1, 2014.
The commission debated whether it should postpone the vote because the resolution had been proposed so quickly and commissioners had not had an opportunity to study the case.
“We want laws to be followed and the rights of this young man to be protected,” said Ford, who instead favored a statement of support but not a resolution. “But we have a procedure for resolutions, and they are not done on the spur of the moment, no matter how dire the circumstances.”
However, supporters of the resolution said waiting even two weeks to vote could be too late in Acosta’s case. He is being transferred within the immigration detainment system, and soon could be placed in a Georgia detention center, the last stop before deportation.
“There is a statement within the procedures that we can make a resolution under dire circumstances,” said Commissioner Risa Foster. “By delaying, the resolution would lose its power. And that’s the power we have — making recommendations and forwarding them to city council. We are within our scope.”
While the resolution is symbolic because the city has no jurisdiction over federal law or authorities, immigration lawyer Sejal Zota said, “I can tell you that these public campaigns and statements of support matter a great deal,” in the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to deport undocumented immigrants.
The commission’s vote has broader message for Durham’s immigrant community.
“This is larger than this situation in terms of the fear others might be facing as they walk out of their homes to go out of school,” said Commissioner Diane Standaert. “We can help reduce tension in saying we support undocumented families and we don’t want them to live in fear.”
Acosta has no criminal record, his mother said, and plans to attend college after graduation.
“He is special,” Acosta said. “I need him home.”