It was just 37 degrees on the morning of January 28 when Wildin Acosta, a 19-year-old senior in his final semester, was warming up his car to drive to Riverside High School.
That's when Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials suddenly arrested Wildin, his sister Catherine told the Durham Public Schools Board of Education through a translator, "and took him and threw him on the floor."
Tonight the Durham Public Schools board became the third government body — in addition to the Durham Human Relations Commission and Durham City Council — to ask ICE for prosecutorial discretion and to refrain from deporting Acosta back to Honduras. However, the DPS board's resolution contained stronger language than either Council's or the HRC's, stating that "ICE actions in our local community" should be "suspended and currently detained Durham youth be released to their families."
The two-page resolution adds that "law enforcement honor the policy not to involve schools and other sensitive locations."
Wildin, who came to the U.S. in 2014, is in a federal immigration detention center in Georgia, the last stop before deportation.
"The 18th street gang was threatening him that he either join or they would take his life," Catherine said. "That’s why he came to the United States. If he goes back to Honduras, he will be killed."
ICE's actions have frightened many members of the Latino community, said Ellen Holmes, a Spanish and ESL teacher at Riverside High School, who knows Wildin. Eight of her 23 home room students were absent after Wildin's arrest, she said. "We've had a very large drop in attendance. Students are no longer coming to school because they no longer feel it's safe."
Even Latino students who are in the U.S. legally are afraid for their friends and families. Holmes said she had spent 45 minutes trying to console a successful college-bound student who was "scared that she would come home and her parents would not be there."
"I was trying to express to her that ’s it’s going to be OK, but I don’t know that it will be OK."
Board member Heidi Carter emphasized that the deportation activities "are not initiated by schools. Schools are considered a safe haven for children and families. We oppose these raids and the deportation of students."
Wildin still hopes to graduate from Riverside in June. "Yesterday I talked to him," Catherine said, "and he asked his teachers to send him his homework to the detention center so he could continue his studies."