The teen came to the United States from Guatemala in 2018 as an "unaccompanied minor" to escape a violent local gang actively working to recruit him.
18-year-old Mario Aguilar hasn't been in a classroom for three months. A junior at Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven, the Guatemalan teen was at a courthouse on September 10 to face charges after a traffic accident when he was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers. For Mario's teachers and peers, his sudden disappearance was a jarring wake-up call to the ordeal that thousands of migrant families have and still being put through by the Trump administration's inhumane deportation policies. Rather than let him become one of the countless others who've gone unnoticed and unclaimed, Wilbur Cross High School came together as one to bring him back.
HAPPENING NOW: Wilbur Cross High School students rally in support of 18 y/o junior #MarioAguilar detained by ICE since the summer. Judge will rule on his asylum case this week @WTNH pic.twitter.com/LGcsjbSDmA— Sabina Kuriakose (@SabinaKuriakose) December 10, 2019
According to reports by CNN and NBC Connecticut, Mario came to the United States from Guatemala in 2018 as an "unaccompanied minor" to escape a violent local gang actively working to recruit him. Having been beaten up and threatened with death for refusing to join the gang, the teen left his native country and crossed the border alone in the hopes of creating a better future for himself. He moved in with an uncle and enrolled at Wilbur Cross High School, where he stood out to his teachers as a promising student who dreamt of becoming a biologist.
Just as his life finally seemed to take a turn for the better, a minor accident set off a series of events that led to him spending the last three months in the Bristol County House of Corrections in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts. "Mario was arrested by the West Haven Police Department after his cell phone slid off of his dashboard on the way home from work and he knocked into a parked car as he tried to pick it up, doing minor damage, the officer arrested him and accused him of driving under the influence," the teen's legal counsel revealed.
However, advocates for the teen argue a sobriety test was never performed and that the DUI charge would've never have held up in court. Mario never got a chance to present this argument before a state court judge during his second court appearance on the charges against him. As he got into line at the courthouse, he heard someone call his name. The teen turned around and moments later, he was in ICE custody.
"On Sept. 10, ICE deportation officers arrested Mario Andres Aguilar-Castanon, an illegally-present citizen of Guatemala for immigration violations, at the Milford Superior Court. He has pending his local charges of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, among other charges. In March 2018, Aguilar-Castanon was arrested by U.S. Border Patrol near the Southwest border, issued a Notice to Appear before an immigration judge and released. He failed to appear in immigration court. Aguilar-Castanon will remain in ICE custody at the Bristol County House of Correction, pending removal proceedings," said ICE spokesman John Mohan in a statement.
Contradicting to Mohan's claim, Mario's lawyers say the teen isn't aware of receiving any paperwork about a court date when he was released from US custody. Since the incident, the teen has received a wave of support from his peers, teachers, and the Wilbur Cross administration, who are determined to bring him back. Students designed "Free Mario" protest posters and put his face on a sticker that they then sold to raise money for his commissary. Not wanting him to fall behind in class or feel forgotten, his teachers have bundled up homework to send to Mario in ICE detention, written letters pushing for his release, and showed up in court to support him.
At the beginning of the school year, Mario wrote in Spanish class:— RAICES (@RAICESTEXAS) December 10, 2019
"Me gusta trabajar y esforzarme, a pesar de estar solo en este pais."
"I like to work and strive, despite being alone in this country."
On Sept. 10 he was arrested by ICE. https://t.co/CGf1DD4wfN
However, so far, all their efforts to continue Mario's education have gone in vain. Attorney Dalia Fuleihan revealed that although she'd tried to send the homework to the Bristol County House of Corrections—first in an in-person meeting with her client and then via US mail—she was informed she could only hand him legal paperwork. The envelope of homework she sent was delivered back to her last month with a stamp that reads "Return to sender. Refused." When asked why the homework was returned, an ICE spokesman stated that the agency doesn't comment on issues, claims or allegations that "are not related to a detainee's enforcement status."
For Mario's teachers, the undelivered homework is yet another shocking reminder that their student belongs in a classroom, not a jail cell. However, they refuse to give up and say they'll keep trying to get homework to him. Mario's fate is expected to be decided by an immigration judge in Boston this Thursday. If the judge denies his asylum claim, the teen's lawyers plan to appeal the ruling and keep fighting the government's efforts to deport him.