Hours after her release from a downstate immigration detention center, 18-year-old Meydi Guzman Rivas cried as she waded through the crowd of friends, teachers and neighbors who gathered to witness her homecoming.
Now that she's home there's one thing she wants to do more than anything else.
"Go to school," she said.
More than four months had passed since any of Guzman Rivas' classmates saw the petite, outgoing student in class at Crystal Lake Central High School. At first, they wondered if she was sick and tried for days to reach Guzman Rivas by phone, one friend said. But as weeks passed and news spread about Guzman Rivas' arrest by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, her classmates' worry turned somber.
Guzman Rivas and her father, Fabio Guzman-Reyes were stopped by immigration enforcement officers in 2018 when they fled to the United States from their native Honduras. Although they were originally released while their immigration cases were ongoing, the father and daughter were arrested in October after missing a court date, according to one of Guzman's attorneys, Nathan Reyes.
Reyes and his partner Kevin Bruning are seeking asylum for Guzman Rivas, whom they say fears gang violence if she returns. For now, the teen is permitted to live in Crystal Lake while she awaits a hearing on her asylum petition.
"We're so happy for her to be home," Reyes said.
Standing at about 5-feet tall in a black turtleneck with a braid in her hair Thursday, Meydi Guzman looked around the crowded room with tears in her eyes. After spending four months in federal custody, Guzman on Thursday saw the faces of the community who rallied for her release and safe return.
"The heart of this is how amazing her teachers are," said attorney Elizabeth Vonau, who met with Meydi while she was being house in the McHenry County Jail's detention center.
Guzman Rivas' school counselor, Sara Huser, not only posted Guzman's $2,000 bond Thursday, but also offered to house the teenager for as long as she needs.
"When she decides she wants to move on and do something else, I will leave that up to her," Huser said.
A Gofundme page benefiting Guzman Rivas had raised more than $10,000 as of Thursday evening. Money from the online fundraiser will be put toward clothes, school supplies and other living expenses Guzman Rivas requires, Huser said.
The teenagers' father's whereabouts were unknown Thursday. Her attorneys have said he could be in another immigration detention center.
"I'm scared for him, but I have faith..." Guzman Rivas said.
As the excitement of the evening settled, Guzman Rivas seemed to find her footing again as a teenager and high school student – her eyes still red from tears as she shared a cheese pizza with her friends.
She'll return to school Tuesday, and after graduation Guzman Rivas has plans to work in the medical field, possibly as a doctor or a nurse, her school counselor said.
"She is smart. She is bright," Huser said. "She is determined and she can do that, for sure."