Riverside High student graduates after months in immigration detention

Posted June 13, 2017 7:17 p.m. EDT

— Graduation came a year later than Wildin David Guillen Acosta expected, but the experience was sweeter because of what he went through to get to Tuesday's ceremony.

"I'm crying because I'm really happy in my heart," said Guillen Acosta, who was finishing up his senior year at Riverside High School in Durham last year when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents took him into custody.

Now 20, he came to the U.S. illegally in 2014 to escape gang violence in Honduras. He appeared before an immigration judge in Charlotte when he first arrived, but he never returned to immigration court for fear of deportation. That decision, ironically, prompted a deportation notice to be issued for him.

Guillen Acosta spent about eight months in detention centers before he was released on bond last August.

Laura Salazar and other Riverside High students and teachers raised awareness through protests and appeals while he was in custody.

"Something unfair had happened, and something needed to be done. So, eventually everyone knew about it, and it brought everyone together," said Salazar, who also graduated Tuesday.

"All I was really waiting for was to hear his name," she said of the graduation ceremony. "People got up, and they started clapping and everything, and it was just, it felt really, really good."

Guillen Acosta hugged his friend and thanked her for her support.

In response to the deportation controversy, an ICE spokesman said the agency was just following orders.

"ICE does not adjudicate cases. ICE is the law enforcement agency that executes the judicial order in instances where a federal immigration judge orders a person removed from the United States," the spokesman said. "ICE is awaiting the outcome of Mr. Acosta's appeal before the courts."

Guillen Acosta has a federal deportation hearing set for late August.

In the meantime, he plans to enroll at Durham Technical Community College to continue his education.

"Right now, I'm so happy. You know, it's a wonderful day," he said.