Durham County

Judge denies request to stop deportation of Durham teen

An immigration judge denied a last-minute request to stop the deportation of Riverside High School student Wildin David Guillen Acosta, according to an attorney working on his behalf.

Elisa Benitez, a spokeswoman with Alerta Migratoria NC, a nonprofit group that offers support to undocumented immigrants seeking asylum in the United States, relayed the news from attorney Evelyn Smallwood of Durham, who said the judge’s decision was made early Friday evening.

“She’s trying to get something going before they put Wildin on a plane,” Benitez said. “But the fact is he could be put on a plane at any minute.”

Acosta, an 18-year-old senior at Riverside, was arrested outside his parents’ home as he left for school in late January by two plainclothes officers with U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement. He has been held at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga.

Federal officers had stopped him at the Texas border in 2014 after he fled his native Honduras. His supporters say he left his home country because he feared for his life amidst threats from gangs. An immigration judge in Charlotte ordered Acosta deported last year after failing to show up for an immigration hearing, according to his mother, Dilsia Acosta.

Bryan Cox, an ICE spokesman, said that the agency does not make public when someone is scheduled to be removed or transferred due to security reasons and that he could confirm Acosta’s deportation only after it takes place.

The judge’s denial dimmed the hopes of Acosta’s supporters, which include his classmates and teachers, the city’s Human Relations Commission and the county board of education.

Students at Riverside High School set up a table in front of the cafeteria during the school’s lunch period Friday urging others to get involved with the effort to stop the deportation by calling U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, posting on social media and signing a petition. The students were also encouraged to use their camera phones to take pictures of themselves holding signs in support of Acosta and to wear a white strip of fabric around their wrists to show support for him.

“We cut like, 500, and we ran out,” said Morgan Whithaus, a senior who helped organize the effort.

Whithaus said she never met Acosta, but the issue became important to her because she could see how his chance for an education was “ripped away from him for really no good reason.

“He was fleeing the gangs,” she said. “The only illegal thing he did was come to the United States. He has no criminal background.”

It was a common refrain throughout the day among his supporters. On Friday afternoon, about 100 people gathered for a vigil in support of Acosta at Duke Memorial United Methodist Church across the street from Butterfield’s office on West Chapel Hill Street. Many held aloft signs that read “Education not Deportation,” “Deport ME Instead,” and “Free Wildin.”

“Children should be able to go to school without fear of being arrested and deported back to a country where their lives are in danger,” said Lorisa Seibel, a Durham activist with the People’s Alliance.

Butterfield released a statement that indicated he had spoken with Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Sarah Saldaña, and “officials at the highest levels of the White House to express my displeasure with the continued detention of Wildin Acosta and the other North Carolina teenagers currently in ICE detention.”

Butterfield’s statement said he insisted the teen not be deported Sunday and requested his release so he can have a fair shot at presenting his case for asylum.

“I believe our limited resources would be better served focusing on dangerous criminals who pose a threat to our communities rather than high school students and teenagers trying to make better lives for themselves,” Butterfield stated.

A spokeswoman for Butterfield said the congressman is awaiting a decision from the White House on whether federal immigration officials will stop Acosta’s deportation.

Thomasi McDonald: 919-829-4533, @tmcdona75589225