A few months ago, I learned the story of Wildin Acosta. I learned of how the 19-year-old Honduran refugee was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents while on his way to his high school in Durham, North Carolina. I learned of how, although he was being detained at the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia, he was still so determined to graduate that he asked his teachers to send him homework. I learned that, because of the enormous outpouring of support he had received from his community, he had been granted a temporary stay from deportation.
But I understood the struggle was not yet over. So when I was given the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC, with a North Carolina delegation comprised of some of Acosta’s classmates, his teacher, and activists to meet with members of Congress and Department of Education and Homeland Security officials to demand the release of Acosta along with fellow North Carolina detainees Yefri Sorto-Hernandez, Pedro Arturo Salmeron, Alexander Josue Soriano-Cortez, Ingrid Portillo-Hernandez, and Bilmer Pujoy-Juarez, who were all being held at Stewart, I was glad to accept.
Collectively known as the NC6, they had all come to North Carolina from Central America during the immigration surge of 2014 to escape violence and persecution in their home countries. Because they were minors at the time, they were temporarily allowed to stay in the United States after being detained by US Customs and Border Protection. Simply because they are now over 18, they are once again targets for deportation.
I decided to stand with these youth as an organizational ally—I am an executive board member of the Youth & College Division of the NC NAACP—and as a person who believes it is morally wrong to deport them back to countries where their lives would be in imminent danger. The more I listened and learned during my meetings in Washington, the more clearly I understood that the problem was about more than the immoral deportation of youth.
I began to connect the deportation of the NC6 to the criminalization of black and brown youth, which is getting out of control, particularly in the South. The school-to-prison pipeline is real and devastating. In grades K-12, black public-school students are 3.8 times more likely to receive at least one suspension from school when compared to their white counterparts, according to the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection. Disparities exist even in preschool, where black children are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts.
For undocumented youth, simply heading to school can put them in this pipeline, as happened to Acosta. Sorto was on his way to catch the bus to West Mecklenburg High in Charlotte when he was detained. Other undocumented youth have become so afraid after hearing the stories of these ICE arrests that they have dropped out of school, as did Salmeron of Charlotte, who ended up being detained anyway.
As the NC NAACP advocates for the NC6, we are also demanding the release from prison of two black men who we believe were also unjustly incarcerated as youth and have had years of their lives taken away by the prison-industrial complex.