United States

New Haven High School Student Detained by ICE

Mario Aguilar Castañon is a junior at Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven. His legal council says he came to the U.S. to escape a violent local gang actively working to recruit him.

New Haven School leaders and community organizers are working to bring a teen detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials back home after he was taken into custody last month.

Eighteen-year-old Mario Aguilar Castañon is a junior at Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven, but hasn’t been in a classroom since September.

According to Aguilar’s legal counsel, “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.”

Before making his second court appearance on those charges, Aguilar was taken into custody by ICE agents. NBC Connecticut spoke with Aguilar’s attorney, Dalia Fuleihan, and when asked why Aguilar was taken into custody by ICE agents, she says she did not know.

Since being detained in Massachusetts, he was worked to continue his education with the help of his teachers who have mailed him his coursework.

Aguilar is originally from Guatemala. The 18-year-old came to the U.S. to escape a violent local gang actively working to recruit him, and when he refused to join he was beaten and later threatened with death, according to his legal counsel.

The teen’s legal team says he left his native country in an effort to create a better future for himself.

Aguilar’s lawyers say when Mario arrived in the United States, almost two years ago, he moved in with an uncle and enrolled in Wilbur Cross High School. According to Aguilar’s lawyers, when he is not in school, he worked to pay his rent and to send money back to support his family in Guatemala.

Since the incident, Mario has received a wave of support from his fellow classmates, teachers and administrations in his school, hundreds of whom wrote postcards and letters to the immigration court on his behalf, asking that he be released from detention.

Aguilar’s lawyers said that the 18-year-old presented a comprehensive plan to the immigration court showing that he would never need to drive and would continue to live a productive life without posing any threat to the community.

However, an immigration judge ruled against granting the teen bond.

Aguilar’s case has generated tremendous support from a cross section of New Haven residents, including Wilbur Cross students and educators, faith leaders, parent advocates, public officials, advocates and young people throughout the city who are outraged that this has happened to one of their peers.

Aguilar remains in a Massachusetts detention center.

Dalia Fuleihan works with the New Haven Legal Assistance Association who is also a part of Aguilar’s defense team.

She issued this statement to NBC Connecticut:

“Mario Aguilar Castanon is a beloved member of his community who has been unjustly detained by ICE and unjustly denied bond. He is a young high school student who should be attending classes not stuck in prison. There is a large community here in New Haven waiting to welcome him home and provide all the support that he needs. Mario should be released so that he may continue his education and pursue asylum here in the United States.”

ICE released the following statement on the case:

“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 .”

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