At first, he didn’t notice the two casually dressed men who appeared at his sides as he placed his backpack into the family car early that cold morning in January. “What’s your name?” one demanded. “David,” he replied, with the accent on the “a,” as he was used to hearing his friends and teachers call him in English at Riverside High School in Durham, North Carolina, where he was three credits short of a diploma. “No. Your real name is Wildin David Guillen Acosta, and I have a deportation order for your arrest.”
Los muros me cayeron encima — “I felt the walls cave in on me,” the 19-year-old told reporters on Monday, August 29, 2016, two weeks after his release from Stewart Detention Center in Georgia . Or rather, 16 days later, as Wildin precisely recalled, his tendency to count out the months, days and hours between his apprehension and his release on $10,000 bond belying the anxiety beneath his naturally sunny, buoyant disposition. With mother Dilsia and members of AlertaMigratoriaNC by his side, Wildin recounted a litany of statistics and emotions, describing an odyssey that took him through four countries, several states and at least four immigration jails in order to rejoin his mother, father and two sisters. And he expressed concern about others like Pedro, Bilmer and Santos, who supported him for “six months and 21 days” and are still being held. It’s for them and for immigration reform, he vowed, that he stood before the press and told his story.
Born in Honduras, Wildin saw first his father, when he was seven or eight, and then his mother, at 13-14, leave home to work in the United States. Staying with his 22-year-old brother, he began to be abused by others for his bright optimism and participation in local church activities. The abuse turned into sustained threats to kill him. “My aunt told my mother and my parents decided I should come to the United States.”
Honduras suffered a coup d’état in 2009, just as its businessman president, Manuel Zelaya, began instituting more liberal policies like school lunches, birth control access and increases to the minimum wage. The Clinton-sanctioned military takeover led to a succession of governments that shut down news outlets and ferociously attacked peaceful assemblies. Lawlessness prevailed, and it wasn’t until 2013 that elections were held. Even then, the results were bitterly contested. By 2014, the year Wildin and so many unaccompanied boys, girls and mothers with small children fled the region in an unprecedented migration, Honduras had the highest murder rate in the world.
Surviving the journey on which he was robbed by the Guatemalan police and the Mexican Federales, Wildin eventually made his way to the US border, where he applied for asylum, thinking the worst was behind him.
“I thought I would be in the ‘hielera’ and then let out,” but he remained in the freezing “icebox” cell that CBP (Customs and Border Protection) employs to hold immigrants at the country’s southern border for eight days. “When I got out, I was so happy to see daylight but the sun was so strong and colourful it hurt my eyes,” he said.
According to pending lawsuit Doe v. Johnson, No. 15-00250 (D. Ariz. filed June 8, 2015), the “icebox” is CBP’s putative treatment wherein men, women, children and even babies are subjected to freezing temperatures, purposely deprived of outer garments, blankets and bedding and made to sleep on concrete floors.
After much delay, Wildin was released to his family, with his petition for asylum in the hands of a lawyer. Reunited, the teen began to make plans for his future, and promptly enrolled in school. His joyous energy at Riverside quickly made its mark, and would later be matched by the efforts of his teachers and friends to fight his detention and support him during the ordeal to come.
His lawyer told him that he would probably be immediately deported at his second hearing and advised him not to go. Citing his non-appearance, the judge ruled against his petition and ordered him deported anyway. And so, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) was dispatched. As Dilsia watched from the window, Wildin was handcuffed and taken away, not to be heard from for 17 days, until a compatriot recognized him in one of the cells. “Are you from Honduras? Is Dilsia your mother? Is Hector Guillen your father? Your father is a friend of mine!” Unable to call himself, others made contact for him, and his family, as well as his school and an entire community, mobilized and took action.
Wildin’s arrest was part of a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) dragnet explicitly aimed at Central American minors and women with small children. These raids began in January, with a second wave occurring in May and June.
Wildin’s stay at Stewart was a rollercoaster of constant misinformation about judicial decisions and imminent deportation, sleepless nights in crowded, noisy conditions with lights that were never extinguished, inedible food (“I found worms three times”), denial of contact with the outside, and an atmosphere of racial tension that pitted African-Americans against Latinos. Detainees would be punished on a whim; once Wildin was reprimanded and placed in solitary confinement for translating a few words into English for another teen writing to his girlfriend.
Not wanting to dwell on his misfortunes, Wildin admitted of his time in detention that “it was the place I cried the most in my life.”
Stewart Detention Center is located in Lumpkin, Georgia, a half-hour drive to the notorious US Department of Defense’s School of the Americas, now renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Since 1946, the “School for Assassins” has been offering courses in commando tactics, military intelligence, psychological operations and combat training with a focus on Latin America.
Wildin still faces deportation, but hopes that with the help of his new lawyer, he can convince the judge to allow him to stay with this family in the US. Asked about his future plans, Wildin professed the desire to return to school, but admitted that he had not been allowed to re-enroll. That is not deterring his teachers at Riverside High School in Durham, however. Before the press conference ended, Natalie Beyer of Durham Public Schools announced, “We have asked Wildin to come to Riverside tomorrow morning. We’re ready to welcome him back!”
In his final words, Wildin expressed his gratitude to all who had helped secure his bond and conditional release, as well as his joy to be back home, by offering his assistance to anyone who needed it.
A todas las personas que me ayudaron, si algún día necesitan alguna ayuda, yo puedo ofrecérsela. No duden en llamarme, yo les puedo ayudar. — “To everyone who helped me, if one day you need help, I can give it to you. Don’t hesitate to call me, I can help you.”
Yefri Sorto was recently able to amass his $30,000 bond, while Pedro Salmerón and Bilmer Pujoy Juárez are still at Stewart, awaiting a court date on September 16, that was just announced.