The twisting saga of Durham teenager Wildin Acosta took another turn today.
Acosta, a Riverside High School student arrested by Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) outside his parents’ house this past January, has been in Stewart Detention Center, in rural Georgia, for nearly six months. (We visited Acosta this spring.) The nineteen-year-old is part of a great wave of Honduran immigrants who have been taken into custody at the U.S.-Mexico border, fleeing violence in their home country. Acosta was a minor at the time he crossed. Federal law grants minors a date in front of a U.S. immigration judge—and, in the meantime, the opportunity to reside with family members. That’s how Acosta ended up in Durham. Acosta then skipped his court date, and a judge issued a deportation order in March 2015. ICE came ten months later.
Acosta’s advocates have protested the offices of local leaders and petitioned for his release from Stewart, a privately run prison with an alarming lack of oversight. Days before Acosta was set to be deported, in March, the Board of Immigration Appeals granted Acosta a stay, which prevented ICE from deporting him. He has reportedly been sent to “restricted housing”—a new euphemism for solitary confinement—for long stretches since, while he waited for the BIA to review his case.
That decision came today. The BIA will be reopening Acosta’s case.
That doesn’t mean Acosta is free, though, and in the meantime, his supporters are pushing for his release from Stewart. In a release, Alerta Migratoria NC—speaking, it says, for Acosta’s “family, teachers, classmates, community supporters”—argues that the Department of Homeland Security (of which ICE is an enforcement arm) has no reason to keep Acosta in detention.
“We demand that DHS exercise favorable prosecutorial discretion to allow him to return home to Durham,” the release states. “Stewart Detention Center has denied Wildin access to education. He has been subjected to lengthy and punitive solitary confinement. His family and supporters say the psychological impact of long term detention has taken a toll on Wildin. It is clear he is not safe at Stewart Detention Center. Anything short of his release is not acceptable.”
The group also called on G.K. Butterfield, who has advocated for Acosta’s release, to “have courage and do what is politically and morally necessary to win Wildin’s freedom at once.”
UPDATE: Butterfield says: “I am overjoyed that the BIA decided to reopen Wildin’s case, giving him an opportunity to finally be heard and have his application for asylum adjudicated. After nearly six months in detention, it’s time for Wildin to come home to Durham. To that end, I have sent a written request to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Sarah Saldaña urging that she immediately exercise her existing statutory authority to release Wildin on his own recognizance.”