ANALYSIS: Student's Detainment Raises Question of Undocumented Youth

The detainment of Eric Balderas '13 by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and his possible deportation to Mexico has sparked heated discussion among friends and activists, who view Balderas' plight as an indication of the work that remains to be done on behalf of undocumented youth in the United States.

Balderas—who came to the U.S. at the age of 4—was attempting to board a plane from San Antonio, Texas to Boston with a consular card from the Mexican government and his Harvard identification before being taken away in handcuffs by immigration officials. Though Balderas was released on Monday and eventually boarded a plane to Boston, he awaits an immigration hearing on July 6.

Monday's incident comes a little over a year after University President Drew G. Faust wrote a letter to Mass. Representative Michael E. Capuano that declared her strong support for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act. The legislation would provide qualified undocumented youth with a six-year-long conditional path to citizenship upon completing two years of higher education toward a degree or two years of military service.

"At Harvard, we have dedicated substantial attention and resources to improve access to higher education," Faust wrote in the May 2009 letter. "The DREAM Act would throw a lifeline to these students who are already working hard in our middle and high schools and living in our communities."

Nicolas E. Jofre '13, director of Harvard College Act On A Dream—the student group that promotes education and awareness of immigration laws, and supports the DREAM Act—said that Balderas' case is not a unique one, for there are many undocumented students at Harvard and other institutions of higher learning across the nation.

Act On A Dream dedicates itself to defending undocumented students' rights through online and letter-writing campaigns, as well as campus demonstrations and collaboration with other immigration advocacy groups. As minors, undocumented youth had no say in entering the U.S., and the public has a "skewed" perception of such individuals, according to Jofre.

"Sixty-five thousand undocumented students graduate from U.S. high school every year. These are students who are doing whatever they can to advance themselves...to move themselves forward and be a part of American society," Jofre said. "Hopefully all of this contributes to immigration reform."

Though opponents of immigration reform argue that such changes would reward families who broke the law by illegally entering the country in the first place, friends and activists have come forward in defense of Balderas in light of his detainment and possible deportation. A Facebook group titled "Keep Eric Home," that seeks to raise awareness of Monday's events, has grown to approximately 600 members since its creation on Thursday by Balderas' friend Mario Rodas, a student at the Extension School.

"Eric is a model stellar student and citizen at Harvard University," the Facebook group's description states. "His deportation will deprive all of us of a potential citizen whose courage, commitment, and sincere desire to help others through science can only make our country a better place."

In an e-mailed statement, roommate David A. Pickerell '13 described Balderas as a passionate and motivated student who works "exceptionally hard," adding that his dedication to the sciences—cancer research, in particular—would make him a valuable asset.

"He should be allowed to continue his studies at Harvard, as his abilities will one day contribute back to the United States," wrote Pickerell. "He is one of the best minds in this country, his credentials speak for themselves, and we should nurture such talent."

Caitlin E. Carey '13, a close friend of Balderas, recalled his willingness to come to her aid when she fell ill during finals week in the fall.

"He made sure that I got to UHS and got home and rested, and he was just really sweet," Carey said. "He's definitely really funny and laid back and really down to earth... It would just be devastating if this [possible deportation] happened."

Jaime D. Barron, a board-certified immigration lawyer from Dallas, said that until the DREAM Act is enacted into law, individuals like Balderas can avoid potential deportation under a few options. Such possible defenses include petitions from family members, a private bill sponsored by a Congressperson, or special humanitarian discretion by ICE.

"When ICE encounters an individual suspected of being in the country illegally, we exercise our discretion on a case-by-case basis," said Mark M. Medvesky, public affairs officer at ICE, who told The Crimson that he cannot disclose details about Balderas' particular case due to the Department of Homeland Security's privacy policy. "In some instances, we issue a Notice to Appear before an immigration judge."

"I think that they [the government] should enact a comprehensive immigration reform that includes a legalization procedure for students who clearly benefit the country," Barron said. "Mr. Balderas did not choose to break the law. He was brought over, and he has excelled in his studies and should be granted mercy by the federal government because he is an asset to the country."

The University, whose admissions process is blind to citizenship because it accepts students from all over the world, showed support for Balderas' standing as a student.

"Eric Balderas has already demonstrated the discipline and work ethic required for rigorous university work, and has, like so many of our undergraduates, expressed an interest in making a difference in the world," Christine M. Heenan, vice president for public affairs and communications, wrote in an e-mailed statement.

—Staff writer Xi Yu can be reached at xyu@college.harvard.edu.

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