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Advocates Call For Investigation Into Teen's Treatment In ICE Detention

photo of Wildin Acosta
Courtesy of the Acosta family
Wildin Acosta, 19, says he fled gang violence in Honduras. He was on track to graduate Riverside High School in Durham this month.

Officials at the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia have released an undocumented Durham teenager from restrictive housing after nine days.

Wildin Acosta, 19, has been in immigration detention for almost five months. He was cited for three violations -- refusing an order, being in an unauthorized area, and being untidy -- which led to the punishment, according to Jonathan Burns, spokesman for Corrections Corporation of America, which operates the detention center.

Burns said in an e-mail that disciplinary restrictive housing limits privileges under ICE standards.

Acosta, who says he fled gang violence in Honduras, was a senior at Durham's Riverside High School when he was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in February. He was put in restrictive housing the day before he would have graduated.

During the nine days in restrictive housing, Acosta spent up to 10 more hours per day alone in his cell than he would have in the general population, according to Burns, adding that restrictive housing is different from solitary confinement.

Acosta's attorney Evelyn Smallwood said she's suspicious of these citations. She said Acosta's restricted privileges came after he was visited by Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-Wilson), who previously intervened on his behalf to secure a stay of deportation.

Smallwood says she thinks Acosta is being punished for having a high profile case.

"As long as Wildin is in detention and they have physical custody of his body, they are going to keep doing this to him," Smallwood said. "This is why he needs to be released."

Smallwood wants ICE to free Acosta while he awaits his immigration court appeal.

Rep. Butterfield is calling on the Director of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and the Secretary of Homeland Security to investigate Acosta’s treatment in detention.

Butterfield called the punishment "highly suspect" and said he'll continue to be vigilant about Acosta's treatment.

"We're not going to secure Wildin Acosta's release without strong public support,” he said. “And the advocacy being demonstrated by his supporters, particularly in Durham County, has had a rippling effect and is heard across the country."


Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
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