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Maryland Student Facing Deportation Is Released From Custody

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The painted phrase on the car of a Montgomery County resident in support of Jorge Steven Acuna, who is in danger of being deported to Colombia.
WAMU Photo/Elliott Francis
The painted phrase on the car of a Montgomery County resident in support of Jorge Steven Acuna, who is in danger of being deported to Colombia.

Federal immigration officials have granted Jorge Steven Acuna, 19, and his family a one-year deportation extension. Shortly after his release from federal custody Tuesday, Acuna says he was unaware of the growing social media movement that focused attention on his family's incarceration.

"I had no idea, and I think it was the most wonderful thing, and I'm just really thankful for everything," he says.

For nearly a week, Acuna had been held for possible deportation at a detention center on Maryland's Eastern shore, along with his mother and father, because of their undocumented immigrant status. After their friends and family rallied to their cause, the three were finally released, amidst a social media firestorm.

Many of those involved in the effort were old high school friends - some were classmates at Montgomery College where Jorge maintains a 3.5 GPA as a pre-med student. Castillo said the support was possible thanks to an online petition and the power of social media.

"We all started changing our profile pictures to Jorge's picture of his graduation, posting statuses, spreading around links to the petition to our rally," says Julio Castillo, Acuna's friend, and one of the organizers of an online movement "All that has accumulated to this great mass of support that we have and it's amazing how much support people [we are getting]. We now have over 6,000 signatures."

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who sent a letter of support for the family to immigration, announced yesterday that federal officials had agreed to let Acuna and his family remain in the U.S. while their case is reviewed.

"They kind of just called us in and were like 'You guys are free to go,'" recalls Acuna. "And obviously it's a long drive from our home to where we were at the prison, but we got in contact with one of our friends to pick us up -- it took about two hours. It was a fantastic day. We hadn't been able to breath fresh air, so it was a great experience to just stay outside and know that you were free."

Montgomery County Councilwoman Nancy Navarro says she hopes the family's struggle will help change immigration laws for students, such as Acuna, who lack legal status.

This all began when Jorge's parents came to this country with their son in 2001, seeking political asylum. The couple's petition was eventually denied and, according to them, mishandled by an attorney who was later disbarred.

Meanwhile, the Acunas continued to make a life in the U.S. despite their undocumented status. With the help of their community, they're hoping to do just that.

Photos: Jorge Steven Acuña - Rally

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