WASHINGTON -- Wildin David Guillen Acosta wants to graduate high school. He said earlier this month that he thought he might be able to pull it off this year -- he just had to get out of immigrant detention in Lumpkin, Georgia, first.
The Honduran 19-year-old was detained by immigration agents on Jan. 28 in Durham, North Carolina, where he has lived since coming to the U.S. without authorization in 2014. He received a deportation order when he skipped a hearing, making him a priority as Immigration and Customs Enforcement carried out raids on Central Americans who came to the U.S. in the past two years.
Acosta's detention took him more than 500 miles from home to Stewart Detention Center, where he remains months later. It also left a mark on Durham and especially Riverside High School, where he attended school.
Four students and a teacher from Riverside came to Washington, D.C., this week to urge officials and lawmakers to help secure Acosta's release. They argue there's no reason to keep him in detention and out of school while the Board of Immigration Appeals considers whether he should be deported to Honduras, where he says he would be in grave danger from gang violence.
"A lot of students fear that they're going to be next," Pamela Gonzalez, a 17-year-old Riverside senior said during her trip to Washington. She tutored Acosta in math and was a fellow member of Destino Success, a Riverside group for Latino students.
Spanish teacher Ellen Holmes, who runs the Destino Success club, said eight of 23 students were missing from one of her classes -- mostly English as a second language students -- the day after Acosta's detention. Overall attendance at Riverside is down by 20 percent and the dropout rate has increased, she said.
"What's the hardest for me is just the fear and the anxiety and how upset the students are," Holmes said. "It hasn't just affected only the Latino community but our Riverside community and our Durham community as a whole."
Axel Herrera, 18 and also a senior at Riverside, said students often talk about Acosta and their fear that they will be detained. Some have stopped coming to school because they think it's "not worth it trying to come to school and working so hard when you're being targeted."
Acosta said in an interview in Stewart Detention Center that he probably needed to return to school in May if he had any hope of graduating high school with his classmates in June, although he said it was difficult to focus on the future while in detention. He hopes to remain in the U.S. and go to school for electrical engineering, or potentially law after his experiences with immigration.
Acosta is still in detention as his case is pending. Bryan Cox, a spokesman for ICE, said Acosta was a priority for deportation because of his removal order. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson instructed agents in November 2014 to prioritize certain individuals including those apprehended at the border who received an order of removal since January of 2014 -- a profile Acosta fits.
Still, his deportation is no longer imminent.
"While Mr. Acosta is an enforcement priority, ICE will await the outcome of his immigration proceedings before taking further action," Cox said in an email.