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Mont. Co. student granted reprieve from deportation

Wednesday - 3/14/2012, 9:18pm  ET

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Jorge Steven Acuña was arrested after immigration authorities turned down their request for political asylum. (WTOP Photo/Andrew Mollenbeck)

Andrew Mollenbeck, wtop.com

ROCKVILLE, Md. - A standout student who was facing deportation has been released from federal custody and granted a one year reprieve.

Jorge Steven Acuña, 19, and his parents were arrested at their Germantown home last week after immigration authorities turned down their request for political asylum.

He grew up in Montgomery County and studied at Montgomery College.

Before their release Wednesday, the three family members had been at a detention facility on the Eastern Shore.

"What I've lived through these past couple days is something that I was never really expecting," Acuña says. "You're brought to this country by your parents, and all you're willing to do here is get an education, have a dream, set some goals up."

By most accounts, that's what he did in the years since his family arrived from Colombia. Acuña graduated from Northwest High School with a 3.8 grade point average.

Last month, Montgomery County joined in the federal Secure Communities program, which allows the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to share information about suspected illegal immigrants. The county, along with the city of Baltimore, was the last jurisdiction to implement the program in the state.

"In other words, we send all fingerprints in to the FBI - every jail in America does - and the FBI will now share those with homeland security and ICE," Montgomery County Department of Correction and Rehabilitation Director Arthur Wallenstein told the Gazette.

Immigration advocates have decried the program, saying that it would increase deportation and unfair profiling.

During Acuña's detention, friends and supporters launched an online campaign to draw attention to the family's story and call for government intervention.

He thanked dozens of those supporters after his release.

"What I really want this message to be is that it doesn't stop here," he says. "It doesn't stop just getting me and my family out of where we were at."

"I ended up having to spend my night with my father in a maximum security cell. He was my cell mate," Acuña says. "We wouldn't even see the sunlight."

His father was clearly emotional at the rally as he described the detention.

"We haven't committed a crime," says Jorge Acuña, who shares the same name. "My son is a very good student."

The reprieve served as both a celebration and a rally for those who support the Dream Act in Maryland.

"In a very strange way this has been a catalyst for many young people to see that their participation actually can result in a tangible answer," says Councilmember Nancy Navarro.

But immigrant rights supporters still called for an end to deportations that rattle the community.

"Since we passed Secure Communities, thousands of people are just a police stop away from being jailed and deported from this country," says Councilmember Valerie Ervin.

She went on to add that some are "living in fear there is a whole community that's living in fear that an honors student like Jorge and his family who have sought political asylum in this country can have the police show up at their home, handcuff them, take them to jail."

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)