Local News

Supporters seek asylum for Durham teen in ICE custody

Posted July 20, 2016 4:41 p.m. EDT
Updated July 20, 2016 6:27 p.m. EDT

— After federal authorities said they would review the pending deportation case of a Durham teen, his attorney and others are demanding his release as he seeks asylum in the U.S.

Wildin David Guillen Acosta, 19, was picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents while on his way to Riverside High School on Jan. 28 as part of an effort to target teenagers who recently crossed into the United States from Mexico. A native of Honduras, Guillen Acosta said he crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally in 2014 to escape gang violence.

He 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. That failure to appear, however, resulted in a deportation order.

Guillen Acosta's family fear he could be harmed or killed by gangs if he returns to his home country, and his case has attracted the support of everyone from Riverside High teachers to Democratic 1st District Congressman G.K. Butterfield.

The Board of Immigration Appeals said last Friday that it would reopen Guillen Acosta's case, which suspends any deportation action. Yet, the teen remains in ICE custody in a detention facility in southern Georgia.

"Our goal from the beginning has been to get Wildin out of detention," attorney Evelyn Smallwood said Wednesday. "While this is a step in that direction of getting him released, we're not going to stop working and we're not going to feel like we've been successful until he is released."

Because Guillen Acosta crossed the U.S.-Mexico border within the last two years, ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said, he is considered a priority – similar to convicted felons and terrorists – and will remain in custody until his appeal is resolved.

"It’s a complete misuse of resources," Smallwood said. "ICE needs to let him out so that ICE can focus on people who are a threat to our community and our national security and so that Wildin can get asylum."

She argued that he qualifies for asylum because he was escaping gang violence and that he didn't have adequate legal representation when he first appeared before the immigration judge.

"We have said from the beginning that Wildin has a viable asylum claim. He has a right to be in the United States," she said. "We were right, and this has been six months of them detaining Wildin unnecessarily."

Meanwhile, Dilsa Acosta was ecstatic that her son's possible deportation was put on hold, and she is relying on her faith that he will soon be back home in Durham, saying it was like she lost part of her heart when he was taken away.