Francisco Acosta hugged his brother and sisters Monday morning before walking into U.S. District Court in Hartford with his one-way ticket to Colombia in his pocket.
As he walked into the building, supporters chanted, “Si se puede,” Spanish for "Yes we can,” and “Keep Francisco home.”
Inside the courthouse, Acosta, 59, was fitted with a GPS ankle bracelet that the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency will use to keep track of his movements before his scheduled deportation on Jan. 15.
In the hour before Acosta, who works as a janitor at Wesleyan University, presented himself at ICE’s office, supporters rallied outside the courthouse. Support came from the property services union to which Acosta belongs, community activists, local leaders and Wesleyan students.
“I’ll tell you, if someone deserves to stay in this country, it is Francisco Acosta,” Hartford state Rep. Edwin Vargas said. “Today we pray they will do the right thing.”
Acosta fled Colombia in 2001, he said, after his life was threatened. At that time, Colombia was embroiled in brutal political violence, and teachers, like Acosta, were killed for their political views and union activities.
After he arrived in the United States, Acosta applied for asylum but his application was denied. Since then, Acosta has obtained work authorizations from ICE and stays of removal every year — until a month ago, when he was told to report back with a one-way ticket.
Acosta is in the unique situation of being the only member of his family in the United States who was not granted legal status. His mother and four of his brothers are citizens, and his three sisters are legal residents.
He is also a caregiver for his mother, 82, who uses a wheelchair and has been fighting cancer for the last three years.
“I am not a threat to the U.S.,” Acosta said. "My record is clean. I am not a delinquent. In the time I have lived in the U.S., I have always worked and always paid my taxes.”
Acosta’s case has drawn the attention of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, as well as Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin and local legislators.
“We’re talking about a human being here,” Blumenthal said. “A human who is here escaping persecution in Colombia. … This is a matter of principles and values. Sending Francisco Acosta out of the country would betray American values. He’s hardworking; he cares for his mother.”
Bronin said deporting people like Acosta only hurts communities like Hartford.
“Sending them home and tearing apart families does not make our community stronger. It does not make them safer, either,” he said.
Diana Martinez, who works at Wesleyan’s Center for Community Partnerships, said that Acosta is a valued member of the Wesleyan community and that deporting him would have more negative consequences than benefits. She and others from Wesleyan attended Monday’s rally.
“In decisions like removing Francisco, we are actually creating more negative outcomes for society,” she said. “We’re here with some folks from his Wesleyan family to support him.”
More than 300 students and faculty at Wesleyan have signed a petition supporting Acosta.
As he prepared to enter the courthouse, Acosta thanked his supporters and said he hoped that God would shine a light on his lawyer, Manuel Nieves, to help him win his case.
“I am very grateful to all of you,” he told the crowd.