Durham teen released from immigration custody shares story for first time
Posted August 29, 2016 6:30 a.m. EDT
Updated August 29, 2016 11:14 p.m. EDT
DURHAM, N.C. — A teenager who spent months in federal custody under threat of deportation on Monday detailed his journey to the United States and his time in custody in his first public speech since his release.
Wildin David Guillen Acosta, 19, was a senior at Riverside High in Durham and on his way to school when federal immigration agents detained him in January. His deportation was temporarily halted in March.
Guillen Acosta has said he fled Honduras in 2014 because a gang member threatened to kill him. Speaking through a translator about the incident that brought him to the U.S., Acosta said Monday that he had visited a park with his youth group when the threat was made. He said the gang member told him not to leave his house at night because he was being watched, and the gang member later sent him threatening text messages.
Guillen Acosta said he told his aunt about the incident, and his parents, who had migrated to the United States several years earlier, decided to bring him to the country.
“I always say that every experience is another adventure that is put in your path of life,” Guillen Acosta said.
He said he traveled through Guatemala and Mexico before being detained at two Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities at the United States border. He eventually met up with his family and began attending school in Durham.
Guillen Acosta appeared before an immigration judge in Charlotte when he arrived in the U.S., but he never returned to immigration court for fear of deportation. On Monday, he said he was told by an attorney at the time that he would have been detained if he appeared in court.
That failure to appear, however, resulted in the deportation order that led to his arrest.
Guillen Acosta said he had been held in an immigration detention center for a month and a half when a Charlotte judge made the decision to deport him. He said the ruling occurred on a Friday, and he was told he would be deported on Sunday.
“It was really shocking because I had seen that others were deported months after,” he recalled. “Then I started crying, and my fellow immigrants consoled me. ‘Keep at it. Wherever you go, keep at it.’”
He thanked Democratic 1st District Congressman G.K. Butterfield and the Durham community for intervening to stop the deportation order, but he said he struggled emotionally during the following months in the Georgia detention center.
“That whole time when I was there, I asked God to help me. When you’re in those kind of places, there are many emotions you go through in your heart. Sometimes you could be laughing with your friends in detention, but later, after three hours, you could be very sad, and you could be crying because you start thinking about a lot of things, and you wonder why you had to go through that,” he said.
After five more months, Guillen Acosta said he received a letter approving his release, but he learned he had been given a $10,000 bond. Supporters set up a GoFundMe page and raised the bond money in less than two days.
He was released from custody Aug. 12.
“Through the same door that I came in, I was going out,” he said. “At that point, I didn’t know what to do.”
Guillen Acosta said that he took a few weeks to spend time with his friends and family and is now in the process of seeking asylum. He said he must wait until January to return to Riverside High School to complete the three credits he needs to graduate, but he does not know what he will do in the meantime.
"We are ready to welcome him back," said school board member Natalie Beyer.
"I thank you from the bottom of my heart that I am going to be able to finish the three credits I am missing to graduate," Guillen Acosta said.
Before leaving the detention facility, he said he made a promise to his friends that he would help them get freedom as well.
“If I can become a strong voice in my community, I’m going to do it,” he said.