He earned two certificates for his accomplishments.
But if I were to try to give him his certificates, I would have to bring them to the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown.
That is because he was arrested by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) in December — midway through his senior year at Norwalk High School.
He has been there ever since.
He came to this country when he was in second grade. He was 7 years old and was a student at League Elementary. He struggled learning a new language and adapted to his new country.
By the time he got to high school he was, of course, fluent in English. He was my student in English class his sophomore year, took beginning journalism from me during his junior year and served as entertainment editor for the Trucker Imprint this year, up to when he was arrested.
He was an announcer on our school’s broadcast channel, NTV. He was captain of the soccer team in the fall and went out for wrestling this winter season.
He was kind to everyone. He has a great smile and sense of humor. He was polite to all and was the kind of student every teacher would love to have.
He also was illegally brought here as a young child and never obtained legal status. And for that, he sits in prison. He had planned to attend Tiffin University next year and play on the soccer team there.
The red “W” appeared on my class roster last month indicating he had been withdrawn from school.
A little background: He was arrested by Norwalk police in December and charged in connection with an incident at a party. When he was released on bond, it was discovered that he wasn’t an American citizen and he was detained by ICE with no bond set.
Since then, charges here were dropped and there are no criminal charges against him. He is still being held without bond by ICE.
When I discussed the situation with the Norwalk law director, he said that what my student may have done at that party was nothing more than what many American boys would have done in a similar situation. The law director belittled the seriousness of the activity which caused ICE to become aware of his status.
Our president says that many Mexicans are criminals and should be deported.
That is not the case for this young man, who was brought here as a child, and who has been a resident of this country for years, doing what his teachers asked of him and helping his neighbors and friends. Many letters were written to the immigration judge on his behalf — by friends, by teachers, by coaches, by a pastor, by the senior class president who has known him since elementary school — to no avail.
This young man — he is 19 years old now — is no criminal. What this country has done to him is sad. He had a promising future here. He has been raised here as an American. Being deported would send him to a country he has not lived in for many years. Why is he being treated this way?
His next hearing is May 8. A bond may be set, in which case money will be needed for bond. He may be deported, in which case money will be needed to try to start a new life in Mexico. A GoFundMe account has been set up by a good friend to help with whichever consequence the court decides. Here’s the link to the account.
No ethnic group should be lumped together. This young man has been treated unfairly and has suffered enough. He should be in his classes at Norwalk High School, not in prison. He should not have to leave the country he has called home since he was 7 years old.
Debbie Leffler is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. She can be reached at [email protected]