Star runner detained by INS, freed

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A DECADE OF GREATNESS—The Women’s Cross Country team embraces Coach Duro Agbede during the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference Championship at Balboa Park after learning that they had just won first place for the 10th year in a row.

In a dramatic week of tension, confrontation, political intrigue and triumph, Southwestern College cross country star Ayded Reyes went from an INS detention center where she faced deportation to the 2011 Pacific Coast Conference Champion.

Reyes, California’s #1-ranked women’s cross country athlete, was held by San Diego Police after a routine traffic incident in Barrio Logan, then turned over to the Border Patrol when she could only produce student identification cards. Reyes was a passenger in the car. Border Patrol took Reyes to an Imperial Beach holding facility.

A clearly shaken cross country coach Dr. Duro Agbede asked faculty for help and received it. Human rights activist and Border Angels founder Enrique Morones located immigration attorneys and safe houses across the border should she be deported. Reyes’ luck turned when Congressman Bob Filner got involved. Filner asked to meet with INS officials and for status reports on Reyes. He also insisted that she not be deported until she had a hearing.

Reyes said Filner was the primary force behind her release.

“As soon as coach found out about this he started getting as much information as he could and he got Bob Filner involved,” she said. “Pretty much what got me out was his help. I didn’t know how close I was to being deported on Saturday until coach told me. Thank God for all the people who helped me. I’m so lucky.”

But the weekend was long and frustrating for Reyes and those who knew her.

“I’m just devastated by this right now,” said Agbede the day after her detention. “I’m speechless.”

Reyes’ parents called him on Friday morning about the situation, he said, and they were frightened and disconsolate.

Agbede said Reyes had many friends on the team and everyone loved her. Faculty members who had Reyes as a student agreed, as did her teammates.

“She never talked bad about anyone,” said teammate Valerie Hycz, 19. “We spent every day together for basically the past two years. She was a hard worker. She did good in school and running.”

Hycz was concerned that if Reyes got deported, she would be hurt or lost.

“She hasn’t been to Mexico since she was about two so she really doesn’t know it,” said Hycz. “(The United States) is basically her home. She knows America but she doesn’t know Mexico.”

Agbede said Reyes was born in Mexico, but came to the U.S. as an infant and never left. Her parents were undocumented workers, he said. Reyes grew up in the United States and graduated with honors from Mission Bay High School.

SWC’s cross country team went to practice at Balboa Park on Thursday, Agbede said, but Reyes decided to stay behind because of a minor injury.

“If she hadn’t been injured she wouldn’t have been in that place,” said Agbede. “If she hadn’t been injured she would have gone with us. Maybe if she had gone with us we wouldn’t be in this predicament.”

Agbede said he recruited Reyes from high school and she proved she could study as well as she could run, maintaining a 3.5 GPA at SWC.  Reyes had guaranteed scholarships from several top universities, including an Ivy League school. She had hoped to be able to take advantage of the DREAM Act, Agbede said, federal legislation that would grant citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants if they earn college degrees or serve in the military. The federal DREAM Act lost a close Congressional vote last spring, but is expected to come back for another vote. California recently passed its own version of the DREAM Act, designed to help college students.

“This is the time for her,” said Agbede. “They signed this new law that could help her. She’s been here all her life.”

Morones said deportation has been a huge issue for many who live in San Diego County.

“For me it’s just so sad to see continuing deportations,” said Morones. “Every year, regardless of the president, they continue to deport people. These people are just trying to have better lives.”

Reyes release came just in time for her to run in the Pacific Coast Conference Championship. Sitting in a cell for five days did not seem to slow her down. In a dramatic climax to her turbulent week, Reyes ran away with the PCC individual championship in a commanding wire-to-wire victory and led SWC to the team title. SWC women aim to compete in the California State Championship November 19 in Fresno in hopes of defending their state title.

“I was a little nervous because I hadn’t run in two weeks,” said Reyes. “I feel like I should have done better but I didn’t have the practice and preparation.  But I fought with all my heart and ran my heart out. I gotta do this.”

The race has particular importance for Reyes, whose scholarships depend on her performance.

“If I hadn’t raced this Thursday all my scholarship offers would’ve gone away,” she said.

Reyes said she was glad to have a happy ending to her own story, but really ran for the team.

“We’ve had this tradition, we’ve won the conference for the past 10 years,” she said. “This is not going to stop me.”

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