Talking with Elisa Benitez, community organizer for Alerta Migratoria NC, about last week’s ICE raid in Durham | News

Talking with Elisa Benitez, community organizer for Alerta Migratoria NC, about last week’s ICE raid in Durham


A crowd of 50 gathered at Grace Baptist Church on Saturday evening.
  • A crowd of 50 gathered at Grace Baptist Church on Saturday evening.
Before leaving for school at Durham’s Riverside High School last Thursday morning, 19-year-old Wildin David Guillen Acosta went to warm up the car. He returned inside to grab his bookbag. When he came back out, plainclothes Immigrations Customs Enforcement agents were waiting for him. He was thrown to the ground, arrested, and hauled away. He’s currently being held at Stewart Detention Center, in Lumpkin, Georgia, awaiting deportation.

Wildin arrived in the United States in June 2014. He was a minor at the time, seeking to escape gang violence in his home of Honduras. Arrested at the border, he was delivered to his parents, who live in Durham. After attending one immigration court date, Wildin was told by his lawyer that he stood little chance of asylum, and would likely be ordered to leave the country. He failed to attend subsequent court dates. He wanted to succeed in America, his parents say, and was working as a cook at a Durham restaurant in addition to pursuing his studies. He was set to graduate in May, and wanted to be an engineer. He was preparing to enroll at Durham Tech. Short of a reversal of his charges, that path is no longer available to Wildin.

On Saturday evening, a vigil was held at Grace Baptist Church in honor of Wildin and the three other recent confirmed targets of ICE raids in North Carolina. Family members, teachers at Riverside, and other members of the community attended. Guests held signs bearing the names of those taken from the state: Wildin, Bilmer Araeli Pujoy Juarez, Oscar Alfredo Hernandez Sanchez, and Pedro Arturo Salmeron Salmeron. Wildin’s mother, Delsia, wept at the front of the chapel.

Elisa Benitez, a community organizer for Alerta Migratoria NC, said, “Our communities are under attack. And there’s lots of fear and anger and frustration and general confusion in the community about how to support them.”

We called Benitez on Sunday to discuss Wildin’s situation and the recent ICE raids in North Carolina.

There are four confirmed cases of young men being recently taken by ICE in North Carolina?

Yes, that’s what we have confirmed so far.

How old are they?

They’re 18 and 19 years old. Two from Charlotte, one from Greenville, and one in Durham.

Wildin’s family was at the vigil. Were the families of the other three detainees present?

No. They were invited but were too scared to come.

Why specifically was Wildin targeted?

ICE is particularly going after those who entered the country as minors in 2014 and have final orders of deportation. Which Wildin did. So they [ICE] know specifically who they are going after.

What is your understanding of Wildin’s immigration case?

He went to his first immigration court date but didn’t attend his second because an attorney explained to him that he shouldn’t even try, that there were no real options available to him. Immigration judges have a very low approval rate for asylum cases like Wildin’s. So I’m assuming the lawyer maybe thought there wouldn’t be much repercussion to not returning to court. Eventually, when you do that, you receive a final order of deportation. But I don’t think anybody realized there would be raids of this magnitude.

What typically happens if you receive a final order of deportation and ignore it?

If you don’t show up to a hearing, you are automatically given a deportation order in absence. And sometimes immigrants are uninformed about that. They think it’s like traffic court or something, where there may be a warrant issued, but if you can find an attorney you can reopen it and figure things out. But a lot of these people don’t have access to legal aid or money for an attorney. And the nonprofits are already overwhelmed trying to service people. So for a lot of reasons people are uninformed about the repercussions.

So would Wildin just have to continued to duck immigration officials indefinitely?

Often that happens. Some evade the law. In Wildin’s case there are no easy answers as to what he could have done. Obviously, showing up to court — but even then he would have essentially just been going through the motions of the deportation process. In terms of legal recourses, right now it’s hard to say what can be done. At this point, now that he's been detained, the officer assigned to his case would have to acknowledge that they have a credible fear of what would happen to Wildin back in Honduras.

What do you know about Wildin’s whereabouts currently?

Right now, Wildin’s family has had no communication with him since he was taken. He and the others were detained and moved pretty quickly between North Carolina to Georgia. It was hard for us to keep track of where they were, because we would check the system and call jails and hear say that they were at that jail but they’re not there anymore. So it was a matter of playing catch-up. Georgia — Stewart Detention Center, in Lumpkin, Georgia — is where the main detention centers are at. From there they wait for enough people to arrive to load up a full plane and then ship them off to their native country.

Large question, but what is the answer to situations like Wildin’s, in your view?

I think one part of it is the Obama administration recognizing gang violence as worthy of asylum. People like Wildin came to the U.S. as minors trying to escape being forcibly recruited by gangs in their home countries in Central America. These youths are threatened and told, ‘If you don’t join our gang you’ll be killed.’ They have no real options. I think this administration needs to reassess that. Mexico and Central American countries have a very low approval rate for asylum in the U.S. even though the statistics show that many of those deported are killed within weeks or months of arriving back in their home countries.

What’s next?

We’re planning to keep applying pressure. We intend to have more events like the vigil in the near future in order to continue support for these families and communities. 

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