A Crystal Lake Central High School student has been separated from her father at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center after they missed a court date in Chicago about a year ago.
Meydi Guzman was 16 years old when she and her father, Fabio Guzman-Reyes, fled to Laredo, Texas, to try to escape the gang that Guzman said raped her and threatened her life in Honduras. The pair immediately was stopped by U.S. Border Patrol, but they were released on a promise to regularly make appearances in immigration court.
After settling down in Crystal Lake, Guzman took to her new school, friends and teachers, and was on track to graduate, attorneys Nathan Reyes and Kevin Bruning said. Months later, however, Guzman and her father were arrested and detained for missing a court hearing. As the weeks go by, Guzman has begun to fear permanent separation from her father and deportation back to the country where she believes her life and the lives of her family members are at stake.
“This is a young woman who now is in a jail with people who have committed terrible crimes,” Reyes said. “She related to us her intense fear of going back to Honduras.”
Reyes and Bruning are working with Guzman for free, and they have been cooperating with the attorney representing the teenager’s father. The woman’s attorneys are unsure why Guzman left only with her father. Her mother remains in Honduras, where Guzman is believed to have siblings, as well, her attorneys said.
A representative from Reyes and Bruning’s office tried to visit Guzman at the McHenry County Jail on Tuesday but was asked to return with an appointment and a translator, since Guzman doesn’t speak English, the attorneys said.
When they arrived the next afternoon, Guzman, clad in orange jail scrubs, was “terrified,” and spoke to the attorneys through tears by way of a translator.
“Particularly when she was retelling her story of why she left Honduras, that was when she was crying the most, and then she was tearing up when we were discussing her being away from the community and trying to be hopeful of getting out of jail,” Reyes said.
Guzman and her father left Honduras in 2018 after a group of gang members sexually assaulted her, her attorneys said. Afraid that reporting the situation to police would cause more harm, the father and daughter fled to Texas, Reyes said.
“[Her fears] were twofold,” Reyes said. “The first is reprisal from the gangs – being punished for leaving or, more likely, being another sexual assault victim or rape victim again. The second fear would be harm to her family.”
According to documents filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Guzman-Reyes was stopped by a border patrol agent June 18, 2018, after wading through the Rio Grande River.
Both he and Guzman, however, were released based on an understanding that they would make court appearances at future immigration hearings, and for about seven months, the father and daughter stayed true to their word.
However, because of a possible mix-up in scheduling paperwork, Guzman and her father missed a Feb. 28 hearing in Chicago, Reyes and Bruning said. By the time the pair made it to the courthouse unannounced later that year, they were told to return for a new hearing Oct. 16, Reyes said.
“She was actually arrested at the courthouse on her court date in Chicago,” Reyes said.
Guzman, who had celebrated her 18th birthday weeks earlier, was taken to the McHenry County Jail’s immigration detention area, her attorneys said. It’s unclear where Guzman-Reyes is being housed.
“She would love to be able to see her father again,” Reyes said.
A Community High School District 155 counselor has offered to sponsor Guzman if the teenager were to be released while the immigration matter is pending. As of Thursday morning, however, Guzman no longer was being detained in McHenry County.
About 1:45 a.m. Thursday, authorities transferred Guzman to a downstate detention center in Pulaski County, more than six hours away, Reyes said.
“We found out [Thursday] morning that six, seven hours after [we] had left the jail, they moved her out of the McHenry County Jail,” Reyes said. “We don’t know why it was done.”
Not unlike McHenry County, which charges ICE $95 a day to house immigration detainees, Pulaski County stands to make $75 a day for each person they house on ICE’s behalf, county records show.
Reyes and Bruning have requested contact with Guzman at the southern Illinois facility but had not heard back as of Friday.
Having Guzman released from custody won’t be as simple as posting bond, however. Attorneys would need to persuade the judge to reopen Guzman’s case and put the young woman’s deportation on hold, Bruning said.
“It’s more an issue of a court deciding to undo what it has previously done,” Bruning said.
Reached by email Thursday, Shannon Podzimek, communications director for District 155, said the district would not comment on individual student matters.
Reyes and Bruning have said no one at the school was informed of Guzman’s arrest and staff are concerned for the young woman.
“There are people in McHenry County who are very concerned about this and see the injustice of treating a young person like this,” Bruning said.