In June, TIME.com profiled Ramón's remarkable journey from Nicaragua to the United States in search of safety and freedom. Sold into slavery at the age of six by his mother, abused as a child, and later homeless on the streets of Chinandega, Nicaragua, Ramón survived beatings and death threats at the hands of local police and gangs. At 15, he escaped all that misery and fear by walking thousands of miles through four countries, only to be caught on the border and shut away in INS detention. He has spent the past year being shuttled from one INS detention or juvenile correctional facility to another.
In December, Ramón won his plea for asylum and a foster family was found to take him in. But he was never released. Last month, the INS finally decided to release Ramón to his new foster parents. They gave him a pre-paid calling card and Ramón immediately pulled out a stack of business cards from all the lawyers, immigration advocates, and others who helped him get free. He began dialing. "He called everyone he knew. He was so excited to be out and with his new family," says Harner, a community outreach specialist for the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project in Arizona.
But that excitement and his newfound freedom may be short-lived. That's because Ramón is turning 18 this fall and his asylum claim is based on his experience of persecution, and fear of future persecution, at the hands of the Nicaraguan police as a street child. Not as an adult. "So, INS will argue that now that he's 18, he's no longer a child and therefore his claim of feared persecution as a member of a group of street children is moot," says Chris Nugent, director of the Immigrant Pro Bono Development Project at the American Bar Association. Ramón could argue that his past experience as a minor was so terrifying that it doesn't matter that the fear of future persecution is attenuated as an adult. Nugent thinks that will be enough. Nevertheless, Ramón's freedom is still in the hands of the same agency that could have released him when he initially won his asylum case seven months ago and did not. The agency could send him back any time it wants. Even though he is out of detention, he is still in its custody.
Despite a fear that he may go back to a juvenile correction facility or INS facility, Ramón is looking forward to going to school for the first time in his life. The realization that he is free for the time being is still sinking in. "He couldn't allow himself to look forward to the day when he would be released," Nugent says. "He sounded stunned, shy, and subdued by the whole experience."