A series of ICE raids, the latest targeting young asylum-seekers from Central America, continue to rip apart communities in Georgia and North Carolina. At least ten high school students have been arrested—many on their way to school—as part of the Obama Administration’s “Operation Border Guardian.”
Legal experts say they could qualify for protection as refugees, but never got a chance to have their claims heard. Last week, the case of one Georgia teen gave community activists hope that last-ditch legal efforts could halt the deportations, allowing them to have their asylum claims heard.
After more than ten weeks in the Irwin County Detention Center—one of the ten worst immigration detention centers in the country—Collins Hill tenth-grader Kimberly Pineda Chavez is now free. Despite overwhelming evidence that she was prevented from applying for asylum, ICE instead tried to deport her before an immigration judge ordered her case reopened. Advocates had argued that the young girl should be free to pursue her asylum case outside of detention and that her removal would put her life in jeopardy.
Even in the face of state-wide organizing, and more than 25,000 signatures from a national petition, ICE continued to hold the 19 year-old, arguing it was too risky to release her. Kimberly’s release came only after her attorney, Elanie Cintron, leveraged a successful petition to reopen the case, convincing an immigration judge she should be released on a minimal bond. Kimberly is now home with her family and is able to return to school.
“Kimberly is now free to pursue her asylum claim from outside detention as should the rest of the teens raided by ICE. Her case undermines any argument the agency has to continue to imprison the other students, yet ICE is deporting them,” said Jacinta Gonzalez from #Not1More Campaign.
Last week, ICE deported one student, Jose Ismael Alfaro Lainez to El Salvador even though the agency knew his attorney was preparing paperwork to reopen his asylum case.
Jose Ismael’s mother, Maria Paz, explained, “My son was deported even though we were still trying to reopen his case. Now, he is in El Salvador, afraid to go outside because of the violence and the threats. On behalf of all the other mothers, we are asking President Obama to release our children so they can seek protection in the United States. No other mother should have to suffer this pain.”
As the time in detention extends, supporters do not just worry about the students’ well-being but say it has an adverse affect on their education. Teachers in North Carolina have been organizing for the teens missing in their classrooms, demanding that they be released so that they can graduate this Spring.
Holly Hardin of the Durham Association of Educators, said, “As teachers, we have to fight for the communities that our students deserve. If the students we teach are coming to school hungry or tired or traumatized, or worse they are missing so they can’t come to school at all, I can’t do my job. The communities my students deserve are free of raids and the threat of deportation. As a teacher, I will continue to fight until the 8 remaining students detained by the recent ICE raids are free, but I will also fight until we see big policy changes that ensure all students can live free from fear.”
Those remaining in detention are
- Wildin David Guillen Acosta
- Bilmer Araeli Pujoy-Juarez
- Josue Alexander Soriano-Cortez
- Pedro Arturo Salmeron-Salmeron
- Santos Geovany Padilla-Guzman
- Yefri Sorto
- Pascual Andres-Felipe
- Jaime Fernando Arceno Hernandez