Berkeley student arrested by Border Patrol while visiting girlfriend in Chula Vista

A man visiting his girlfriend for the holidays after his first semester as a transfer student at UC Berkeley was arrested by Border Patrol agents at an immigration checkpoint in Jamul.

Luis Mora, 20, and his girlfriend Jaleen Udarbe, 21, were on their way home from a party around 10 p.m. on Saturday when they missed a turn and ended up at the checkpoint. Mora has been detained in a temporary holding cell in a Border Patrol station since then.

“Luis Mora was found in violation of his visa condition,” said Tekae Michael, a spokeswoman for Border Patrol in the San Diego sector. “Currently, Luis Mora is listed in DHS custody. This is all the information I have on the subject at this time.”

Mora became an unauthorized immigrant after he came to the U.S. from Colombia as a child and overstayed his visa, Udarbe said.

He grew up in the San Diego area and went to Otay Ranch High School. He met Udarbe in an honors society at Southwestern College, and they’ve been together for almost a year.

In December, he told her about his immigration status. It didn’t bother her, she said, but it did make her worry about him.

“He said it’s really hard to be a U.S. citizen here,” Udarbe said. “He’s been trying, but they just won’t let him.”

Neither knew that there is a checkpoint along Campo Road between Jamul and Dulzura. They passed it after they knew that they’d missed the turn home.

Once they realized they would have to go back through the checkpoint to make it home, they were in shock, she said.

“He said, ‘This is it for me. I’m sorry,’” she said.

After Mora’s arrest, she called her mother in tears. Then, she started trying to figure out how to contact Mora’s mother, who is in Ecuador. The two had never spoken before.

Udarbe spent New Year’s Eve making more phone calls to find a way to help Mora. Assisted by a student organization at UC Berkeley called Rising Immigrant Scholars through Education, she rallied friends and community members on social media to campaign for Mora with the hashtag #FreeLuis.

Because of the campaign, Prerna Lal of the East Bay Community Law Center, a lawyer who represents unauthorized immigrant students at UC Berkeley, is now working on Mora’s case.

Since Mora is still in Border Patrol custody, it’s more difficult for her to communicate with her client, Lal said. She didn’t want to comment on details of his case before meeting with him in person.

The Union-Tribune was unable to interview Mora because he is in Border Patrol custody.

He will eventually be transferred to a longer-term detention facility by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency responsible for carrying out deportations.

Lal doesn’t know why Mora hasn’t been transferred to such a facility. Mora told Udarbe that more than 60 people are detained with him at the Border Patrol station, slowing down processing.

Lal hopes that ICE officers will agree to release Mora while his case is pending so that he can return to UC Berkeley in time for the semester starting in mid-January. By law, ICE can only hold people if the agency believes that they won’t show up for their court dates or that they are dangerous to society.

Neither applies to Mora, Lal said.

If ICE will give him a bond, the university will help pay it, she said.

“It should be simple,” Lal said. “It doesn’t serve anyone’s interest to keep him for longer.”

Mora is studying political science and has dreams of going to law school. In 2016, he was selected for the Young Latino Champion award given out by the San Diego Union-Tribune.

At the time, he told the Union-Tribune that for him, a successful life would mean helping as many people as possible.

“I like to show that you can make an impact in your community no matter who you are,” Mora said. “What inspires me is seeing how little things can make a big change.”

Mora’s mother is in Ecuador, and his father died a few years ago, Udarbe said.

After the two began dating, her family became his family. He calls Udarbe’s mother, “Mom.”

Udarbe took the Union-Tribune to see where she should’ve turned from Campo Road onto Otay Lakes Road. In the process, she had to drive through the checkpoint again. Though she is a U.S. citizen, she tensed as she looked for her ID before driving up to the agent.

“I’m traumatized,” she said. “It’s a scary process to be in.”

Udarbe hopes that sharing Mora’s story will not only help him, but also other young unauthorized immigrants, known as dreamers, who are hoping Congress will pass legislation giving them a pathway to citizenship.

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