One could argue, quite convincingly, that federal immigration policy is beyond the scope of Durham's Human Relations Commission. But the story of nineteen-year-old Riverside High School student Wildin David Guillen Acosta has brought a sense of helplessness.
Wildin crossed the U.S. border in 2014, seeking to escape gang violence in Honduras. After attending one immigration court date, he was told by his lawyer that he stood little chance of asylum and would likely be ordered to leave the country. He didn't return to court and was subsequently issued a deportation notice. In late January, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested Wildin on his way to class. He's currently being detained, awaiting deportation.
The HRC exists to address issues in underrepresented communities in Durham, and its monthly meeting, held last Monday, seemed a natural venue to voice concerns about ICE raids in the area.
Through a translator, Wildin's mother told his story to the commission and the media-heavy audience. A resolution in support of immigrant youth in Durham had been drawn up: "We, the Durham Human Relations Commission, urge suspension of ICE raids in our local community and for the release of currently detained Durham youth. It has generated enormous fear among our immigrant and Latino community and has also disrupted their school attendance."
A simple—and largely symbolic—statement of support.
If only it were that easy. Commissioners Dick Ford and Ricky Hart argued that the resolution was outside the purview of the HRC, touching off a forty-five-minute discussion. It was suggested that the commission hold off on a vote until the next meeting. Then it was argued that Wildin's situation was too urgent to wait. Finally, HRC chairman Phil Seib asked an ad hoc committee to go out in the hall and draft an amended resolution.
After a presentation detailing a new Bull City Connector bus route—during which Hart revealed, via his line of questioning, that he lacked a basic understanding of how public transportation works in Durham—the new resolution was read aloud by commissioner Girija Mahajan. Ford then asked if he could read an alternate version he had prepared. His had something about "Obama's raids" in it. Mahajan shook her head: nope.
A vote was taken. The resolution passed 9–2. The next day, the Herald-Sun got a sic-laden follow-up email from Hart: "So now the commission condones and support [sic] criminal mischievous behavior. We are supporting a person that has spit in the face of the American justice system if he was schedule [sic] to go before a [sic] immigration court."
The resolution wasn't quite so controversial when it appeared before the city council a few days later. After hearing the statement's language, Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden asked, "Where does this go from us, since we have no authority over ICE?"
"It's just a public statement of support," replied councilman Don Moffitt, who also sits on the HRC.
Cole-McFadden suggested sending the statement to local federal officials, including U.S. Representatives G.K. Butterfield and David Price. "I think that's a reasonable suggestion," Moffitt said.
"Let's endorse the statement and let [the HRC] decide what they want to do with it," Mayor Bill Bell said.
The motion passed unanimously.
Wildin is still awaiting deportation.