by Tripp Laino, Staff Writer
Two weeks ago, Jorge Steven Acuña was in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement cell. On Sunday, he joined with family, friends and supporters in Clarksburg to celebrate his family’s March 13 release.
“This is just amazing,” he said. “The fact that you’re here, and you’re free and with the people that helped you. It’s amazing.” About 50 friends and family members gathered Sunday to celebrate the release of Acuña from custody and discuss plans to help those in similar situations.
“We believe in work hard, play hard,” said Sebastian Roa, Acuña’s second cousin and an organizer of Sunday’s pot luck held at the home of a supporter in Clarksburg. “We want to rest up before some of the big things we have coming up.”
Roa, 20, of Rockville, is a member of Team Justice for Students in America — or JSA for Acuña’s initials — formed to advocate for the family’s release. He said he expected about 100 people at the pot luck over the course of a few hours.
The group, which organized rallies and created petitions to advocate for the Acuñas, helped orchestrate the release of 20-year-old Acuña and his parents, Blanca and Jorge Acuña from ICE detainment on March 13. The family was taken from their Germantown home March 7.
On Sunday, Jorge Acuña said he still was unsure why he and his family were detained.
The Acuñas are not U.S. citizens. Supporters of Jorge Acuña and his family said they should not be detained because Jorge is enrolled at Montgomery College.
Acuña graduated from Northwest High School with a 3.8 grade point average and is in his first year at Montgomery College.
The Acuñas fled Colombia to escape violence, according to Roa. Blanca and Jorge Acuña filed for asylum status in the U.S. after fleeing Colombia, he said.
The Acuñas were granted a one year stay of removal, allowing them to remain in the United States so Jorge Steven Acuña can finish his studies at Montgomery College, according to a statement provided by ICE spokeswoman Nicole A. Navas. ICE declined to comment about the specifics of the Acuña’s case.
Roa said Team Justice for Students in America has planned several events in support of the family, including a rally in Annapolis, a voter registration concert and a possible march on Washington, D.C. in August.
He said he and his family, who emigrated from Colombia 11 years ago, lived in fear of deportation since their arrival.
“Before this happened, I lived in fear,” he said. “Now that it’s so public and people are so open … I’m not scared anymore and I think people in my situation feel comfortable coming out now. People are so accepting.”
By March 13, more than 5,000 people had signed an online petition formed by the group. U.S. Rep. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., U.S. Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) and Barbara A. Mikulski (D) and Montgomery County council members, wrote letters to ICE and other federal government officials encouraging them to release the family from custody.
Casa of Maryland, the Langley Park-based immigrant rights advocacy group, represented the family free of charge to bid for their release.
Rommel Sandino, who works for Casa of Maryland as a youth organizer, was in attendance Sunday.
“It’s amazing to see this young group getting politically active,” Sandino said. “It began with something personal. It’s a spark that ignites a whole movement.”