The case of a senior high school student slated for deportation back to Honduras prompted dozens of protesters to the streets in Durham, North Carolina — they say the teen's life is in danger since he has been expressly threatened by gang members there.
At a rally on Thursday, supporters said Wildin Acosta should be released from the custody of immigration officials so he can finish high school in June. On Sunday, the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that it would delay his deportation in order to give his lawyers time to prepare an asylum request.
Acosta, 19, is being held in a rural jail in Georgia along with five other North Carolina students.
His absence has created fear among other students, who want Acosta to return by the time the fourth quarter begins April 4.
"I believe that his triumph will be that this year he will be able to graduate as a senior with me and all of the 300 to 400 classmates that he has," student Axel Herrea said as supporters held signs and chanted phrases such as "education not deportation."
Acosta fled Honduras in 2014.
Teacher Ellen Holmes said Acosta was awakened at 3 a.m. Monday in his jail cell and told he was being deported even though he had been granted the stay.
"Then they kept him detained and alone, thinking he was going to be deported for over 3.5 hours," she said. "I get asked every single day, 'where's Wildin? When's he coming back? What's going on with him, Ms. Holmes? What's going to happen?"
She said some students are fearful of coming to school and attendance has dropped.
ICE spokesman Bryan Cox referred questions about Holmes' comments about the wake-up call to Corrections Corp. of America, which manages the facility where Acosta is being held.
CCA spokesman Jonathan Burns said the company's workers follow ICE's orders.
"When we receive instructions from ICE to carry out the transport of a detainee like that, we follow suit," he said. "And if at some point that instruction is canceled, we carry that out as well."
Supporters said Acosta is one of about 800 teenagers who arrived in the U.S. as unaccompanied children and have been detained or deported by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement since October. They also rallied in support of five other North Carolina students they say are being detained and threatened with deportation.
Two were in school in Charlotte and one each in schools in Greenville, Thomasville and Raleigh, organizer Ivan Almonte said. Three North Carolina teens have already been deported, he said.
Rodney Ellis, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said Acosta and the other five detained students "are not a threat to our schools. They should not be sitting in a jail cell. They should be in a classroom, not only learning about math or science but about problem solving and being a valued member and contributor to our society."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.