An immigration judge in Georgia Friday morning denied bond to Gustavo “Guz” Zamudio, a Charlotte high school student facing deportation after being charged with embezzling money from the Harris Teeter store where he worked.
The decision by Judge Dan Trimble means the Northwest School of the Arts senior will remain in federal custody at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga., for the foreseeable future.
Zamudio, 18, faces deportation to his native Mexico in connection with his Feb. 25 arrest in Charlotte on charges that he took more than $2,900 from a Harris Teeter store in Myers Park.
His attorneys and friends had hoped that Zamudio would be freed to return to Charlotte to deal with deportation and the criminal charges. He is scheduled to graduate from Northwest in three months.
According to witnesses in the courtroom Friday, Trimble’s decision followed a five-minute hearing. It was witnessed by four supporters of Zamudio who had driven all night to be in the courtroom. Community activist Braxton Winston and Jennifer Erwin, the mother of a Northwest student, spoke to the judge.
In denying Zamudio’s bond, Trimble acknowledged that the teen had extensive community backing and wished him good luck in his deportation case, Winston said.
Zamudio’s immigration attorney, Carnell Johnson of Charlotte, was not present in the courtroom, but his voice was piped in. He argued that Zamudio was not a flight risk, and said as a young gay man, his client needed the court’s protection by being removed from custody.
Asked about Zamudio’s demeanor in the courtroom, Winston described it as calm and attentive.
“He was strong,” Winston said.
Winston, along with Erwin and Northwest students Devyn Bauer and Anna Butler drove six hours from Charlotte to be on hand, arriving at Stewart just before 5 a.m.
“It's really important for us to be here,” Butler said. “Gus has been alone in this place...He needs to know that there are people here supporting him.”
Added Bauer: “Even if the (embezzlement) charges are true – and I don't think they are – he still deserves to be in the American judicial system. He’s not just something the government sends away.”
Following the judge’s decision, the students broke down in tears outside the courtroom, Winston said. A hoped-for meeting with Zamudio was not allowed.
The hearing was Zamudio’s best – and likely his last – chance at freedom in the coming months. He now faces a lengthy wait at the immigration center until his deportation case is scheduled. On Thursday, Rob Heroy, one of the teen’s criminal attorneys in Charlotte, had described the chances of a successful appeal of the denial of bond as “slim and none.”
Before his arrest, Zamudio was under the protection of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, a renewable two-year program started by the Obama administration that protected certain immigrants from deportation who had come into the country with their parents. DACA participants are also eligible for work permits.
Under the previous administration, participants lost DACA protections when convicted of a felony. Johnson said the Trump administration. in what it describes as an effort to make the country safer from crime-committing immigrants, has begun revoking the status at the time of arrest.
Zamudio’s case has inspired rallies by his classmates, speeches at government meetings and a letter-writing campaign asking Harris Teeter to drop the charges.
Heroy said he will be meeting with the Mecklenburg District Attorney’s Office to discuss the embezzlement charges. He declined to say whether he will also be contacting Harris Teeter. If the charges were either dropped or in some way resolved, Heroy said, it would improve Zamudio’s immigration standing.
“This is a young kid,” Heroy said. “Merits of the case aside, these are pretty severe consequences for what went on.”