Things That Matter

A High School Student Is Being Detained By ICE But His School Is Rallying Support Behind Him

A New Haven, Connecticut school was rocked by the news that one of its students had been detained by Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE). The announcement by the principal came over Wilbur Cross High School’s PA system and sent shockwaves throughout classrooms.

Mario Aguilar was arrested by ICE when the 18-year-old attended a court hearing to handle charges over a traffic accident. Students and teachers were unsettled by his detention. They decided to support Aguilar through the immigration process and fight against his deportation. 

Teachers even tried to send him his homework — a symbolic gesture that they were still holding a space for him in their hearts, minds, and classrooms. ICE sent it back.

Teachers are heartbroken over Aguilar’s detention. 

Students and teachers orchestrated a coordinated effort to support Aguilar. They wrote letters to ICE to influence his release. They showed up to his court hearing. Students printed “Free Mario” posters and stickers to raise money for his commissary. They kept his desk empty in Spanish class believing if they did that maybe Aguilar would come home soon.  

Teachers sent him his homework and some books — but it was sent back, labeled return to sender. ICE asserts that if it is not related to his case, Aguilar can’t have it, according to CNN

“Mario was hundreds of miles away from his family, from his home. He got stability at school and security within this community, until he was taken from us,” Principal Edith Johnson, whose parents came to the mainland from Puerto Rico, said at a press conference. “Throughout my years as an educator, I’ve lost too many children to community violence, tragic accidents, medical conditions and significant trauma that keeps our students out of school — and now, another terrifying variable certain to take students off course, with ICE arrests.”

Aguilar’s Spanish teacher Mary Perez Estrada was there during his asylum hearing. She was one of the teachers who sent him books she hoped would comfort him. “As Mario spoke before the court, detailing how he’d fled persecution from gangs in Guatemala, Perez Estrada hoped the judge would see what she did in her student — someone who deserves a chance,” according to CNN. “The judge didn’t make a ruling that day. He told the court he’d announce his decision on December 12.”

Wilbur Cross students demand that ICE “Free Mario.”

Aguilar was detained by ICE while attending a court hearing related to his involvement in a car crash. When his cellphone slid off of his dashboard he accidentally hit a parked car when he attempted to retrieve the phone. No one was hurt and the vehicle was only minorly damaged. 

“I hope that he knows we’re fighting for him and I hope that helps, but that’s very minimal when you’re stripped away of your humanity,” said CT Students for a Dream organizer Anthony Barroso. “We’re here to also to show Mario if he can hear the news, that we are fighting for him, and many others in the same situation.”

Doing nothing, even if what is being done won’t change the result, did not feel like an option. For the students and teachers, for Aguilar’s community, they understood that being deported back to Guatemala could mean sending him back to his death. 

“The goal is to let everybody know what the situation is, spread the word, so we can be a bigger community,” junior Wilbur Cross High School student Stephanie Pawcar told NBC.“I don’t personally know Mario, but he is a student at Wilbur Cross and it’s really important because it’s something that needs to be talked about.”

According to Principal Johnson, students have written over 400 letters in support so far with more rallies and protests planned. 

Students and teachers are arguing that Aguilar has a right to fight his deportation.

Aguilar’s peers believe he should be able to stay in the United States and fight his case in the courts, rather than being sent back to the country he fled when he was 16. Gabriel Gonzalez is a senior at Aguilar’s school and a budding filmmaker. She is utilizing the medium to create a film to help her classmates understand why they should care about Aguilar’s case. “He wasn’t known before, but now literally there’s posters around the school with his face on it everywhere.

People didn’t know about him because he was just a regular student,” Gonzalez told CNN.

“But now the fact that just this ordinary student was taken, his whole life has been turned upside down because he happens to be from somewhere else, shows that this can happen to anyone. And it shouldn’t happen to anyone, because we’re all just trying to live our lives as teenagers or normal, everyday people walking around the street.”

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ICE Has Gone Rogue As It Continues With Deportations Despite Several Policy Changes

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ICE Has Gone Rogue As It Continues With Deportations Despite Several Policy Changes

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Long before taking office, President Biden vowed to undo many of the Trump administration’s most cruel and inhumane immigration policies within days of taking office. But despite several executive orders, Biden’s policies have met several roadblocks and swift changes in immigration policy have yet to arrive.

One major roadblock to ending deportations has been a federal judge that placed a hold on a Biden’s executive order and the other has been a “rogue agency” that’s continued several of Trump’s immigration policies.

Migrant rights advocates are calling ICE a “rogue agency” as it faces new allegations of abuse.

Although President Biden has outlined his immigration policy and installed his new head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – which oversees ICE – the White House still does not have full control of ICE, which faces multiple allegations of human rights abuses and allegations that it has disproportionately targeted Black migrants.

The agency also continues to deport immigrants who don’t fit the categories approved for deportation by DHS – even those who had been taken off deportation flights just hours before.

Many deportees are claiming that ICE has stepped up its torture of detainees.

Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Several migrant rights groups – Freedom for Immigrants, Al Otro Lado and Advocates for Immigrants Rights – published affidavits from Cameroonian asylum seekers who they said were tortured by being forced to approve their own deportations. The asylum seekers described being forced to the floor and having their fingers inked and pressed on to deportation documents they had refused to sign.

According to The Guardian, one Cameroonian asylum seeker described being brought into a room with darkened windows where he was forced by agents to put his fingerprint on a document in lieu of a signature, waiving his rights to further legal process before deportation.

“I tried to stand up because of the force that they were using on me, and they tripped me,” HT said. “I fell on the floor; I kept my hands under my body. I held my hands tight at waist level so they could not have them. Five of the Ice officers and one of the officers in green … joined them. They pressed me down and said that I needed to give them my finger for the fingerprint.”

One man was put on a flight to Haiti even though he’s not Haitian and had never been to that country.

And despite new directives from DHS and the Biden administration, ICE continues to carry out deportation flights containing people who fit none of the current criteria for deportation.

Just last week, Paul Pierrilus, a 40-year-old financial consultant from New York, who had never been to Haiti and is not a Haitian citizen, was taken off a deportation flight at the last moment after the intervention of his local congressman, Mondaire Jones. But just days later, ICE put him on another plane and sent him to Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Jones told the Guardian: “Ice is a rogue agency that must be brought to heel. There is no world in which an agency under the control of the leader of the executive branch should continue to deport people after the president of the United States signed an executive order halting deportations for 100 days.”

However, the Biden administration has also moved forward on its own with many deportations.

It’s true that a federal judge ordered the Biden administration not to enforce a 100-day pause on deportations, but the ruling did not require the government to schedule them. However, the administration has moved forward on deportations for hundreds of immigrants within the past two weeks.

It’s unclear how many of those people are considered national security or public safety threats or had recently crossed the border illegally, the priority under new guidance that DHS issued to enforcement agencies.

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This Inmate Firefighter Was Nearly Killed Battling California Blazes But Now He’s Facing Deportation

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This Inmate Firefighter Was Nearly Killed Battling California Blazes But Now He’s Facing Deportation

David McNew / Getty Images

Across the United States there are hundreds of thousands of undocumented Americans doing their part to protect and better the country. But far too often, our communities and our leaders don’t return the favor.

One man, a former inmate who was injured while battling California’s historic wildfires, was turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after he was released from prison. Instead of being given a second chance, he faces likely deportation back to his native country of Laos – a place he hasn’t known since he was 4 years old.

A California man is facing deportation after nearly dying on the frontlines of the state’s wildfires.

A formerly incarcerated firefighter who helped battle California’s historic wildfires is now in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, after the state notified the agency he was being released.

Bounchan Keola, 39, left his native Laos at the age of 4. His home is here in the United States – in San Leandro, CA to be exact. But he’s facing the ultimate punishment of being sent back to a place he knows nothing about.

“He made a mistake as a child. He came here impoverished and he was resettled as a refugee when he was 6,” said his San Francisco Asian Law Caucus attorney, Anoop Prasad. “And he literally risked his life. California didn’t have to call ICE to deport him…This case is extremely sad and unfortunate. Society has failed him again and again.” 

Even more shocking is that Keola only had 14 days left on his prison term when he was crushed by a tree while battling the Zogg Fire in early October. He was soon released from prison but then taken into immigration custody by ICE.

While fighting a wildfire, Keyla was severely injured.

Credit: David McNew / Getty Images

Although Keola was convicted of attempted second degree murder, not only has he served his term but he also gave back to the community as one of the thousands of inmate firefighters battling the state’s blazes. In fact, he received a shorter prison sentence because of the extra credit he earned for fighting fires. 

Incarcerated firefighters get two days credit off their sentence for every day they’re working and are paid up to $5 a day. It’s estimated they save the state tens of millions of dollars a year. 

But then Keola got injured.

While he was stationed in Redding, CA., a tree fell on him while he was clearing brush to stop the fire from spreading. He is still in excruciating pain, his lawyer said, and he has not received the proper medical attention.

Since his release from prison, Keola has been in ICE detention.

Just seven days after being injured and with seven days left in his prison term, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation notified ICE that his release would be coming up. On Oct. 16, the day Keola finished serving his prison sentence in Sacramento, ICE came to pick him up. On Oct. 29, an immigration judge ordered his removal to Laos, records show.

Since being picked up by ICE, Keola has been held at a detention facility in Kern County. Although he faces a deportation order, Laos doesn’t have a repatriation agreement with the U.S., which means he could end up staying in California. But his fate is still unclear. And only a pardon from Newsom, his attorneys said, would expunge his record and allow him to go home freely to his parents and sister. 

I just want to go home and give my mom and dad a hug,” Keola told The Guardian, the first news organization to report the story. “All I know is I’m American. I’ve never thought of myself not being a citizen. I’m just asking for that one, second chance.”

Keola’s fate is in the hands of Gov. Newsom as he awaits a potential pardon for his crime.

Gov. Newsom has painted himself as a champion of those who have been incarcerated and fought on the front lines to save California during the wildfire season. That’s why Keola and his attorney say that his fate is in the hands of the governor. He has asked for a pardon from his prison sentence, showing that he has changed for the better and that his service to the state battling wildfires should count for something.

On Sept. 11,  Newsom signed AB 2147, a bill that will allow formerly incarcerated people to be able to try to expunge their records and become professional firefighters. Inmates who have stood on the frontlines, battling historic fires should not be denied the right to later become a professional firefighter,” Newsom later said in a tweet after signing the bill. 

Yet Keola, an inmate fighting fire on the frontlines, hasn’t been given that chance. And although California is a sanctuary state, which forbids most cooperation with ICE, Keola was still handed over to the agency.

Newsom’s spokesperson, Jesse Melgar, said in a statement: “We are unable to discuss individual clemency applications, but can assure that each application receives careful and individualized consideration.”

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