Educators turn up the heat to rescue NC student seized in ICE raid on way to school


by Sabrina Holcomb

When high school student Wildin Acosta left the house to warm up his car on a cold winter day a few weeks ago, he didn’t know he’d never reach school that morning. Instead, Acosta was seized by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents from his front yard as his family looked on in horror.

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Acosta hasn’t been back to school since. He and five other North Carolina students are being held in a Georgia detention center, awaiting deportation back to the violence they fled in Central America.

Acosta was set to graduate from school in May and wanted to be an engineer. Rather than the diploma he dreamed of, he now faces deportation, which amounts to a death sentence says his family. The studious teen sought refuge in the United States because he had been issued an ultimatum by an Honduras gang—join or die.

Acosta was arrested after an immigration judge ordered his removal from the country when he didn’t show up for his latest hearing. At a previous hearing, his lawyer told him that he had little chance of being granted asylum, scaring Acosta into not showing up for his next court date.

The devastating impact of the latest ICE raids on students across the country has educators and immigration rights activists questioning the revision in the Department of Justice’s deportation priorities.

Wildin's teachers mailing his homework
Acosta has asked his teachers to send his homework to the immigration detention center in hopes of being able to graduate.

Before the recent crackdown on families and unaccompanied children crossing the border, deportation efforts focused on violent criminals, convicted felons, and people with significant misdemeanors—not students like Acosta with good standing in the community.

“Many of us aren’t prepared with what to tell our students,” says Riverside High School teacher Mika Hunter Twietmeyer, who calls Acosta a model student peers and classmates look up to. “We thought coming to school was a safe thing to do.”

Acosta’s ordeal has sent waves of fear throughout the Durham school district. Attendance at Riverside High, where Acosta is the second student to be detained, has dropped 20 percent. And tearful parents are scared to register their children for school because they’re frightened about giving out a home address.

One school bus driver in another district reported that a student was picked up by ICE while waiting at the school bus stop.

“A lot of students aren’t coming to school because they’re afraid to leave the house,” says Ellen Holmes, a Riverside teacher who knows Acosta well. “When they are at school, they’re distracted, anxious, and sad. It’s hard to calm them down and reassure them when they don’t know who might disappear next.”

The Durham Association of Educators and school community have united behind Acosta and other student detainees, working with immigration rights activists to help bring him back home.

Educators at Acosta’s school made videos describing the impact his capture has had on the school, and sixth grade honors students in an English Language Learners class elected to write letters to the White House asking for Acosta’s release as part of a class unit on persuasive writing.

After the Durham Association of Educators wrote a letter to the school board asking them to take action, board members, worried about the “staggering impact the current situation is having on schoolchildren,” passed a unanimous resolution opposing the deportation of Durham students.

The local Association is also preparing a fact sheet about the mental health trauma students are experiencing, with the long-term goal of helping educators support their students. And they’re asking educators nationwide to share their stories with the White House testifying to the upheaval the raids are causing in school communities.

Meanwhile, Acosta, still determined to graduate, touched everyone when he sent word to his teachers asking them to please send his homework to the detention center. Last week, educators, family members, and advocates gathered in solidarity, walking together to the post office to mail Acosta a package with his school work and letters of support.

During the walk, Riverside teacher Ellen Holmes spoke to Acosta on the phone. “He wanted to know how soon his package will get there. He’s having a hard time, but I told him we’re fighting for him and will always be here for him—no matter what.”

Reader Comments

  1. To all of you with your opinions, how about asking a question: how is it possible for the child to be in the detention center waiting deportation and the parents are not?
    Yeah, you read correctly. The child is going to be deported. Got that?
    Why are the parents not going back to Honduras with their son? Got that?

    Are they legally in the US? Seems so! Or were the ICE hunters ONLY going after minors(spelled correctly!)? Why only under 18 year olds? Playing to the media and to the candidates to make a point or two-oo?????

    NOw will all the female teachers in the USA (mainly female anyway) vote for a certain party now???? OHHHHHHHH! Was this the idea behind the ICE raids on under age kids being handcuffed at school bus stops??? Duh! Is the Pope in Rome, Italy, a Roman Catholic? Duh!!! Duh!!!!! Duh!!!!!!!!!!!

    Now that we have had our political science lesson for today, beward of these little THUMBNAIL stories because they feed your anger, your ire, your lack of reason, and then you do not ask the smart questions: like where is the REST OF THE STORY???? Paul Harvey wrote a column for decades and presented the rest of the story to the American public. He would be disgusted at the lack of information and manipulation of the American readers. Use your common sense and be like the woman in the video: the teacher was quiet, dignified, with no large and overly wide gestures and noisy words. Think…think…think…then act.

  2. So many short-sighted people. Here is another example of an outstanding student with college aspirations whose education we’ve already invested in, getting ready to be deported. This child’s morality and resourcefulness saved him from gang assimilation, yet many here have no problem condemning him to “his fate.” His “BIG” crime is being a teenager who was given reason to feel our system offered no hope, which apparently IS our failed system. So much for Lady Liberty who instead of a torch should be redesigned to be holding up her middle finger. As you chose to spread love, hate, or fear, please remember each one is spread exponentially.

  3. Guess he should have bothered showing up to his court appearance instead of violating the laws of the country that was nice enough to take him in for the time being. Bye Bye.

    1. Did you not read the article? It said that he didn’t show up
      because they told him he was likely to be deported back to
      Honduras – which his parents say is equal to a death sentence.
      He was terrified – you would be too!
      That’s why he left Honduras!! He is a refugee and should be
      given refugee status and allowed to stay here and graduate.
      What a waste of an intelligent young man with great potential,
      who could contribute to our society – instead we are sending
      him back to face death by gangsters.

      This does not sound like America to me!!!

  4. It is outrageous that students are being picked up and deported to appease the bigoted Trump followers. These students seeking freedom from gang violence in South America deserve sanctuary. These raids are forcing people to hide in the shadows. For those who think these raids are a good idea, please read The Diary of Anne Frank

    1. It’s easy to be an armchair critic without placing itself on the shoes of immigrants desperate to flee violence in their homelands, the same reason many Europeans came to our shores 150 years or more ago. Many Americans suffer historical amnesia and forget their own immigrant ancestry. In the last century Jewish refugees before and during the Holocaust were denied entry for the same reasons mentioned in the article and then deported back to their deaths in Nazi Europe. Ask Anne Frank in spirit, her family requested entry into the United States numerous times; REQUEST DENIED!

      We need immigrants like this young man in the article above; he will be an asset and a contributing member of society. I wish I can say the same of the bigots who blame everyone but themselves for their failures!

  5. The USA cannot solve the problems in dozens of other countries. People their need to step up fight for THEIR countries instead of expecting Americans to solve their problems. To all the liberals who are blind to this issue, there are MILLIONS of people around the world who want a better life. How or why would you think America is responsible fore providing this? Do you want OUR country to be reduced to the s..tholes these people are coming from?

    1. Liberals aren’t necessarily “blind”. Perhaps we see the world, just as it is, and still decide to care about what is happening to others. Again I say, it is so easy to speak in absolutes when it is not happening to YOU or anyone YOU care about. How quickly those ideals we hold fast and firm to change when someone we actually care about is in harm’s way. No, we can’t save everyone, but we should be careful not to stop caring altogether. By the way, it’s not just in other parts of the country that these things are happening….check your local news.

      1. Unfortunately, most liberals ARE thinking about absolutes on this issue. The leftist position now seem to be that long as someone crosses the border into the United States and says their life stinks,they should immediately be granted whatever they want. They can even flaunt the very rules and laws set up, but as long as there is a sob story we must all bend to their will or we’re insensitive. I really wish NEA would concentrate on other more pressing issues than advocating for law breakers. Oh wait, I guess I’m being insensitive…

    2. I bet he could piece together a better essay with better and more classy use of the English language than you did. What you seem to not realize, those of you who talk about “these people” and “them” and “their” (or they’re??) is that each of “them” is an actual human being, a kid even, who is terrified of being sent back to their death and also terrified of people like you who see “them” as so much cattle or other herd of dirty animals of some kind. If this hard-working, aspiring engineer with so much promise and hope for the future was sitting in your classroom setting the example for others that he does, and you could still look him in the eye and say those generalizations, after “them” and “those people” and “these” become “you,” the you are truly the ice queen and a deplorable person. So much promise for a future and a legacy, what do you have in comparison, a legacy of hatred and uneducated spelling and grammar? We need to round up all the trump supporters on a train and ship them off to the Honduran neighborhoods these children escaped from.

      1. Just a note: Trump is a proper noun, ought to be capitalized. Better review the nonsense you write before casting stones.

  6. Think about all the immigrants who came to this country. Most of the early ones, after the Native Americans, didn’t have any permission to enter. They just came and set up house. We took the right of the
    first inhabitants to reject newcomers away from them and made our own rules. Is that justice?

    1. I tire of the Native American example in this argument. My ancestors came here in the 1600’s, that’s 400 years ago. I think we’ve moved on from the immigrant status you speak of. They also had many hardships and worries to overcome, including taking up arms against a tyrannical British crown. If this young man is not eligible to stay here, he needs to return to his country, be a patriot, and fight to rid his country of the evil he fears. I know it sucks, but life isn’t fair sometimes. I served many years in the military defending this nation and it’s people. I don’t appreciate ILLEGAL immigrants being allowed to stay here. If this young man can stay legally, I’m all for him. If not, he needs to go home.

      1. He WAS legal until someone scared him out of going to his last hearing. If he goes back he returns to his death. It’s not like he snuck across the border or something. The US Government is practicing intimidation and fear tactics and is traumatizing the entire communities around these kids. If you approve such tactics, then please be our guest and move to the Middle East or China where these are accepted practices.

        1. What all the pompous asses keep forgetting IS that these are kids!.. scared kids. When I was a kid ~ a teenager, and one doing very well in H. S. ~ I was scared trying to sneak into the house after a long walk before bed. A WALK. These young people are facing DEATH. How dare them act scared & perhaps irrationally~? Who do they think they are ~~ REAL PEOPLE?

    2. So if we follow your logic, the United States of America has no business making ANY laws or rules regulating immigration and controlling its borders because the Native Americans were here first? Now there’s some absolutist thinking for you!

  7. The nonsense of violence in central America is over blown. And from a larger perspective, if the family fears for their safety they need to fight the gangs and thugs. Some will die. That is the price of freedom. Coming to America, on our taxpayers buck is not freedom. It is a handout that can no longer be tolerated. Those who are persecuted need to fight for themselves and earn freedom: might require blood but then they will truly know the cost and value of freedom.

    1. That sounds like such a simple solution. However, I doubt that many of us would be so willing to fight and die if we had the option of seeking a better life for ourselves and our children in another part of the world. It is so easy to speak in absolutes when you don’t, personally, have to sacrifice your child. No, I don’t condone breaking the law, but some of the laws need to be revisited so that ALL people have an opportunity to create a life worth living.

    2. The gangs and the thugs you mentioned were imported from the United States. Ordinary citizens in Central America have revolted several times in the last century to get rid of the violent despots who were running their countries, often with the support and encouragement by our own government. These citizens, many of them poor and landless, were labeled communists and a threat to National Security (here we go again). Remember El Salvador, Nicaragua and now Honduras! Wildin Acosta won’t have a chance to survive in his home country and will be killed in a matter of days; his future lies with us in the United States.

  8. I have no sympathy. He broke the laws of this country by coming here and remaining here illegally and failing to show up for court dates. We have laws for immigration. Follow them!

    1. Strange. I was thinking that he is just the kind of person we’d love to have in our country: bright, studious and a leader. What potential he has to add his talents to our workforce! What does it say about our immigration system when it’s nearly impossible to apply for asylum? Do we want to be the nation deporting children? A friend of mine has been trying for years to get a visa for a friend of hers, a young woman in Syria, likely to be killed if she can’t leave. The US government just turned her down. I don’t consider people who flee violence, starvation or poverty to be criminals. Students are not criminals. ICE should not target children.

    2. And yet, he is a child seeking a better opportunity for himself. He is among the many marginalized people in this country who, due to institutional and systemic structures, make “1” step forward and get pushed back “5” steps by the system. However, those who sustain these structures are the same ones who will later say “that kid had opportunities to make a better life for himself, this country has so many choices, he could have chosen education or employment, why did he choose a life of crime?”. Yes, there are laws and yes, he did break them. However, there is also something called “grace”. The last time I checked, all of us need it from time to time. We are not a perfect people. Perhaps we should seek to understand an individual’s plight before we judge. When you are desperate for “better”, sometimes you have to take an unconventional path. Again, I don’t disagree, he did break the law, but so do so many others. However, we have a legal system that has gotten really good at turning a blind eye and providing undeserved protection. What I know about these people is that they were NOT in the midst of trying to create a better life for themselves when they broke the law. In many instances they were just trying to take it from someone else.


      1. The only Americans who get a free ride out of jail card are the 2% who represent the wealthiest of our nation, the CEOs of corporations, and the Big Banks whom the taxpayers paid to bail out after they caused the recession in the 1st place, along with many of the politicians that we voted into office, Republicans & Democratics alike. Those same Politicians are most likely beholden to the same wealthy billionaires who fund their campaigns through superpacs that aren’t required to disclose where their money originates.

        History proves that as far back as any war ever fought here or abroad, the rich have only had to pay someone in order for their sons to avoid the front line and most likely a horrible death. The wealthy need the economic disparity in the U.S. to continue in order to have a ready supply of young soldiers to die in the wars which mean more wealth to a select few.

        The Koch Brothers have sworn to throw 86 billion (!!) into the Republican Party nomination for President this year. Chances are, if you vote Republican, you’re voting Koch ideology, which, by the way, doesn’t exactly support public education or the advancement of any the lower or middle class.
        Democrats are guilty of voting to benefit rich corporations as well.

        Why does it appear the “educators” commenting here, who are likely members of the NEA, do not have children’s best interest at heart?

        By the way, if you are a member of a school union that protects your job, benefits, and retirement, thank a Democrat.

        Mr. Trump and many others running with him are out to undermine your American job by paying you less, taking away your benefits, including your Social Security and retirement most of us have been Paying Into all of our working lives.

        How many of the educators reading NEA news have gone years without a cost of living increase, years without a contract, while the CEOs of wealthy, greedy American corporations & Banks are earning huge bonuses we will never be close to earning in our lifetime?

        It’s time to wake up and realize that we cannot allow any child to be treated as if they don’t matter. Why would any civil, educated, informed teacher believe that a child deserves deportation? He might be 18 but he’s still a child in school.

    3. Our immigration laws only become so harsh and unyielding even to children fleeing violence, violence in countries which was often caused by our foreign policies, when the immigrants became too “brown.” Immoral law have no real standing, and we are required to disobey them just as we disobeyed the segregation laws in this country.

      1. Good plan Ruth, pick and chose the laws you like, obey those you want and disregard the rest. That will work out well. Required to disobey laws? In which school class is that brilliant idea taught?

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