Francisco Acosta was told in November by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to purchase a one-way plane ticket to leave the United States.
The Colombian national works as a custodian at Wesleyan University. On Monday, a hearing will determine whether he stays or goes.
“I think it’s because of the politics of Mr. Donald Trump,” Acosta said. “He thinks that this country is his and that anybody who isn’t in accordance with the laws has to leave this country.”
Acosta was a physics and chemistry teacher in Columbia for 18 years. He was also active in the teacher’s union and says he left in 2001 because of threats on his life during the Colombian civil war between the state and various guerilla groups.
“They told me I had to leave,” Acosta said. “Why? Because I was persona non-grata. I had students that the guerillas were trying to recruit.”
He entered the country illegally in 2001. And he already had a request for asylum denied seven years later.
Acosta believes he should stay because he said he pays his taxes, he’s not a criminal, and he’s seeking political asylum from Colombia. Acosta’s mother was diagnosed with cancer three years ago and he’s her primary caregiver.
“His mother’s support as a U.S. citizen depends on him and equally important, Colombia remains a very dangerous place for him to return to,” said Franklin Soults, a communications associate for 32BJ SEIU, a union for property service workers that Acosta belongs to.
The United States offers “Temporary Protected Status” for refugees from 10 countries seeking political asylum, but Colombia is not one of them. The United States government essentially is saying there is not much of a threat of danger to non-TPS countries--which means it’ll be that much harder for Acosta to prove his case.
Acosta used to maintain the Freeman Athletic Center at Wesleyan. But then he was transferred to the library.
“So three or four months ago, they shifted me to days here in the library,” Acosta said. “And in these three or four months, I’ve developed a lot of great student friendships.”
The former chemistry teacher will see a textbook open. Then he’ll approach the book’s owner. He can’t speak English well, but he says he has no problem diagramming the chemical bonding process.
Emma Llano, a junior at Wesleyan, has advocated for Acosta for about a month.
“This building is huge and the fact that he mostly cleans it on his own in the eight hours that he has is incredible,” Llano said. “But the fact that he also takes time out of his busy day to take care of other students, make sure they’re doing well on their homework is amazing.”
The anthropology major said she and another classmate are working to get the word out about Acosta to fellow Wesleyan students. They recruited around 50 others to join them at a rally in Hartford organized by 32BJ SEIU and they’ve gathered from Wesleyan staff for a petition.
“Anything we can do to help within this community to show ICE, to show the people that are trying to get Francisco out of this country, that Wesleyan students and the whole Wesleyan community is really behind him,” Llano said.
Llano is concerned that when the semester ends, students will disperse and it will be harder to support Acosta.
ICE has released a statement regarding Acosta.
“As a measure of discretion, Mr. Acosta was not placed in ICE custody, however, he is required to report to the ICE office with proof that he intends to depart the U.S. in accordance with his final order of removal.”
As of now, Acosta is scheduled to leave on January 16.