Durham County

Wildin Acosta asylum hearing postponed. What’s next for the former Riverside High student?

Wildin Guillen Acosta awaits his introduction at a news press conference on Aug. 29, 2016 in Durham. Acosta was a student at Riverside High School in Durham when he was arrested in January 2016. He entered the United States illegally and faces deportation to Honduras.
Wildin Guillen Acosta awaits his introduction at a news press conference on Aug. 29, 2016 in Durham. Acosta was a student at Riverside High School in Durham when he was arrested in January 2016. He entered the United States illegally and faces deportation to Honduras. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Wildin David Guillen Acosta’s scheduled Thursday, Aug. 31 asylum hearing before an immigration judge has been rescheduled to Oct. 3, according to a statement from the organization Alerta Migratoria NC.

Immigration Judge V. Stuart Couch called Acosta’s legal counsel Wednesday to announce the postponement without providing a reason.

Supporters, however, speculate that Couch’s decision was impacted by letters from local elected officials who wrote to him in support of Acosta, who fled his native Honduras in 2014 as an unaccompanied minor to escape what he said were threats of violence from gang leaders.

“I absolutely think the letters did have an impact,” said Viridiana Martinez, a spokeswoman for Alerta Migratoria NC, an agency that helps immigrants seeking asylum. “I think he [Couch] realized that people are watching. I think they let him know that Wildin is not alone.”

Martinez said she believes Couch wants more time to review Acosta’s case after receiving the letters, which described the threats Acosta said he received from Honduran gang leaders before fleeing to the U.S.

“He [Couch] doesn’t understand the severity of what kids like Wildin are facing in their own country,” Martinez said. “We’re talking about criminal organizations that are recruiting young men like Wildin and are saying either you join or we’re going to kill you.”

In drawing Couch to hear his case, Acosta appears to face an uphill battle in his fight for asylum.

According to an analysis of court records by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a data research group at Syracuse University, Couch grants asylum in only 18 percent of the cases he hears.

“Couch is one of the most unjust judges in the country when it comes to granting asylum,” Martinez said.

The letters written by local officials to Couch in support of Acosta share Acosta’s accounts of the danger he contends he faced from gangs before fleeing Honduras.

“Wildin’s story began when he tried to spread the Word of God to other youth who were members of the M-18 Gang,” County Commissioner Chairwoman Wendy Jacobs wrote in a letter she penned on behalf of the Durham County Board of Commissioners. “When the leader of the gang found out, he went looking for Wildin with threats of violence.”

City Council member Steve Schewel wrote a similar letter to Couch on behalf of the City Council.

“We want Wildin [Acosta] to thrive because he makes Durham a better place,” Schewel said. “He journeyed to the United States with courage and faith. He is, in essence, a refugee fleeing for his life under threat of violence and death. We ask you to keep this in mind when you consider the case.”

The Durham Human Relations Commission (DHRC) also wrote a letter to Couch in support of Acosta in which it talked about the danger Wilden is likely to face if he is forced to return to Honduras.

Diane Standaert, chairwoman of the DHRC, noted a Congressional report released in August 2016 that highlighted the threats posed by the MS-13 and M-18 street gangs in Honduras and surrounding countries.

Standaert said the report showed that the police and military in those countries have been “corrupted and infiltrated” by the gangs.

“Wildin and other youth like him simply do not stand a chance against these circumstances,” Standaert wrote. “This alone makes Wildin’s [Acosta] case deserving of asylum.”

Acosta graduated from Riverside High School in June.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested Acosta for being in the country illegally and missing a mandatory court appearance Jan. 28, 2016, as he left his Durham home for Riverside High School, where he was a senior.

He spent nearly a year in Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia before being released on $10,000 bond.

His current hearing — scheduled in Charlotte — is his final bid for political asylum. If an immigration judge rules against Acosta, he will have 30 days to appeal or face an order of removal, which could lead to his deportation to Honduras.

Cliff Bellamy: 919-419-6744, @CliffBellamy1

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645

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