HOUSTON (FOX 26) - About 100 students at Austin High School in Houston staged a walkout Wednesday in protest of the ICE detention of one of their classmates.
High schoolers walked out on their lunch break, holding signs and chanting, “Free Dennis.”
Dennis Raynel Rivera-Sarmiento, 19, was arrested near campus on charges of assault causing bodily injury and later taken from jail into ICE custody on January 31, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
The group United We Dream helped organize the walkout, releasing a photo of Dennis Rivera beforehand and tweeting that he was defending himself against bullies when the alleged assault occurred.
Amid the chants from student protesters was a voice speaking out against Dennis.
“Y’all are standing up for the wrong reasons,” one woman shouted at the students. “He hit a female.”
That woman is Carol, the aunt of the 15-year-old girl Dennis is accused of assaulting. She didn’t want to give her last name or show her face on TV, saying people have already threatened her family following this incident.
Carol says she wants protesters to know the full story about Dennis, who according to Houston ISD, was taken to jail by a school police officer after that officer responded to a call of a female student being assaulted.
“He spit on her face first, and she threw a bottle of Gatorade at him,” said Carol. “He got angry, and he attacked her. He gave her a concussion. He knocked her out unconscious.... He hit her head I think it was against that metro bus stop, and she fell to the floor, and he punched her. He busted her lip and he punched her in the face.”
According to ICE, Dennis is a citizen of Honduras who illegally crossed the border in March 2013.
ICE officials say they told him he had until March 2014 to leave, and the U.S. Deportation officers then lost contact with him until his arrest on January 31, 2018.
United We Dream organizers say deportation is not an appropriate repercussion for Dennis’ actions.
“After people mocked him, after people called him offensive things, the outcome of that shouldn’t be that he ends up getting deported,” said Oscar Hernandez, a field organizer for United We Dream. “That’s where we stand and want to make sure that he is able to come back to his school.”
Carol says she hopes those who want to stand up for something know all the facts first.
“What if this guy goes and attacks somebody else,” said Carol. “He’s 19. My niece is only 15 years old. Where is her justice.”
United We Dream organizers say students who walked out during lunch hour returned promptly to class after a peaceful protest. They say they’re pushing for schools to be safe havens for undocumented students. Meanwhile, Dennis remains in ICE custody.
Houston Independent School District released the following statement in response to the walkout at Austin High School:
In line with the commitment expressed by both the Board of Education and the Superintendent, HISD has not used district resources to assist in deportation actions and we do not report students to ICE. Our Superintendent and administration remain steadfast in the district’s commitment to educating every student regardless of their immigration status. Students are and will continue to be safe in our classrooms.