After spending nearly four months detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 18-year-old Honduran Crystal Lake Central High School student Meydi Guzman-Rivas wanted nothing more than to lie in her bed and listen to music.
Guzman-Rivas, who now lives in Crystal Lake with her high school counselor, Sara Huser, has kept herself busy studying, listening to her favorite Mexican and bachata songs and trying to re-create her most-loved Honduran meals. She’s also reunited with her father, Fabio Guzman-Reyes, after months of separation.
“It’s a really good feeling that I have because I have family here that supports me that helps me the most they can. I also have my dad here and it’s really good,” Guzman-Rivas said.
The teenager and her father were stopped by immigration enforcement officers in 2018 when they fled to the U.S. from their native Honduras. Although they originally were released while their immigration cases were ongoing, the pair again was arrested in October when they missed a court date, said one of Guzman-Rivas’ attorneys, Nathan Reyes.
Community members rallied to raise money on Gofundme.com to cover Guzman-Rivas’ bail, which Huser posted Feb. 13.
“Seeing all the bad things that happen in jail, I was maybe losing my faith and hope,” Guzman-Rivas said. “So when I found out about the support, it [gave me] more faith.”
The teenager described her time in custody as lonely, noting that she often was the youngest and one of only a few women being detained in relation to immigration matters.
“When I arrived to Pulaski, there were only three women ...” Guzman-Rivas said. “There was no one person that helped me, and I was feeling really bad because I didn’t know anybody, so it was really hard the first week.”
She managed to make one friend, a girl named Veronica, who left the jail before Guzman, Huser said.
“It’s hard to become close to [other detainees] because they leave,” Huser said.
Guzman-Rivas now is seeking asylum to stay in the U.S., out of fear of gang violence if she were to return. A new immigration court date has not been set since she was freed on bond Feb. 13, Reyes said.
“Right now, we’re in a holding pattern, which is good for her,” Reyes said. “She can focus on her studies, graduate and be a relatively normal teenager.”
Huser and her family have agreed to take in Guzman-Rivas while she prepares for graduation, prom and other high school milestones. For now, Guzman-Rivas plans to attend prom with her friends, she said.
“We love having her here. She fits right in,” Huser said. “The kids love her. They consider her to be a big sister.”
With the support of her teachers and classmates, the teen is on track to graduate in May. After high school, Guzman-Rivas hopes to go to college and find a career in the medical field.
“When you have someone who’s as motivated, as determined, and as smart as she is, it’s a good combination,” Huser said. “She’s going to do it.”
Friends and teachers flooded the Husers’ home last month to celebrate Guzman-Rivas’ first night back in Crystal Lake.
“I love having time with my friends and with my dad,” she said. “Now I enjoy every moment in here with the Huser family.”
Guzman-Rivas’ father is nearby, too, staying with a friend in Crystal Lake while his own immigration matters are ongoing. Guzman-Reyes was granted bond and released from a separate detention center in Kankakee about the time his daughter was released.
“Even when I was out of jail, to think about my dad and know that he was still in jail, it would make me feel sad,” Guzman-Rivas said. “But now that he’s here – really close from here – I’m so excited.”
Guzman-Rivas doesn’t like the term “immigration detention center.” Instead, she refers to her four-month stay between McHenry and Pulaski counties as time spent in jail, which isn’t untrue. Both counties profit from their respective contracts with ICE. The local jails designate a portion of their building specifically for the housing of people with immigration warrants or detainers. In turn, they are able to charge ICE a pre-determined amount of money per inmate each day they are housed.
Although Guzman-Rivas wasn’t being detained as a criminal, she often felt she was being treated as one, she said.
“Moving between jails they would put chains on my wrists and on my midsections and on my ankles,” Guzman-Rivas said. “The water was terrible. It was close to five days initially that I didn’t even have any water because it was so terrible.”
With commissary money, Guzman-Rivas could occasionally buy a bag of chips or make herself rice and beans, but nothing compared with the homemade French fries that Huser’s husband makes.
“I love fries,” Guzman-Rivas said, laughing.
Although she hopes to remain in the U.S., there are parts of Honduras that Guzman-Rivas particularly misses – including the food, which just doesn’t stack up to American alternatives, she said.
“I miss my family, my friends. Even when it was not a good school, I miss being there,” Guzman-Rivas said. “The food – oh my gosh. I really miss it. When we tried to do it here, it’s not the same thing. It’s different.”
Second-rate fried chicken and green plantains, however, are a just a small sacrifice for the family and support Guzman-Rivas said she has found in Crystal Lake.
“I just want people to know that I’m really grateful for all the support that I have received, and I am receiving it,” She said. “To the Huser family: I am so grateful living here, and I will always be grateful [to] them.”