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After spending one and a half months in detention while facing imminent deportation, Mark J. Farrales ’01 has been granted a one-year deferral, a delay to the immigration proceedings against him that has resulted in his release from federal detention.
On November 17, Farrales, a UC San Diego graduate student, put plans to complete his dissertation on hold when he opened the door to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on the step of his Los Angeles home. He was arrested and detained at Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster, California.
At age 10, Farrales was brought to the United States by his parents only a few days after two alleged hit men shot his father, Jaime Farrales, twice in the head near his home in the Philippines. Farrales’ father survived and fled with his family to Los Angeles where they sought political asylum.
However, with Jaime’s unexpected death in June of 2006, the battle to achieve legal status also died.
Meanwhile, Farrales assimilated in the United States and thrived academically, graduating magna cum laude from the College with a concentration in Government. His dissertation at UCSD seeks to address government efforts to combat corruption.
But while he advanced academically, he was unable to achieve legal residency, and in mid-November ICE agents arrested him and placed him in detention. His case rose to prominence as friends, family, and political leaders rallied on his behalf. Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times reported on his case.
“I’m not 100 percent sure of the series of discussions on the part of ICE that led to my deferral, but I know Congressman Sherman’s office was involved and contacted the ICE on my behalf,” Farrales said. “My inmate number was called over the PA system. I showed up to the room, where some paperwork was ready. Officials said ‘You’re leaving today.’”
Farrales said his lawyer Leon Hazany, a Los Angeles immigration attorney, filed a motion with the Board of Immigration Appeals to reopen his own asylum case—separate from his father’s—to land a court hearing. Farrales said previous attorneys gave him poor advice; he was told that he did not need to file for a student visa, as his case was coupled with his father’s.
Rep. Brad Sherman, the local Democratic congressman, contacted ICE officials and expressed concern regarding the handling of the case of Farrales, who is his constituent.
“My office was informed that Mr. Farrales received a deferral of his deportation and was released from detention in time to spend the holidays with his family,” said Sherman in an e-mailed statement. “I am pleased by this outcome and my staff will continue to monitor Mr. Farrales's situation."
Farrales’s federal representatives—the two Democratic California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer in addition to Congressman Sherman—reviewed his case to consider introducing a private immigration bill, said Nicolas E. Jofre ’13, co-director of Harvard College Act on a DREAM. But Jofre added that only two such measures have been approved since 2005.
ICE said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times before Farrales's release that courts have “consistently held that Mr. Farrales does not have legal basis to remain in the United States.”
Farrales said that his deferral could not have happened without the help of his professors, his lawyer, and friends like Jeffrey R. Chaput ’01, whom he met on campus move-in day in 1997 as a first-year student at the College.
The two were roommates at Harvard for the first four years, residing in Grays West and then Leverett House, and Chaput helped rally support for Farrales’s cause.
While Farrales was detained, Chaput visited him at the detention center, where he slept on a bunk bed in barracks with approximately 70 other detainees. Farrales held an impromptu English class daily for detainees from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Somalia.
Chaput describes Farrales as his “brother” and “the nicest person the world has to offer,” and said that he mobilized friends from Leverett and Delta Upsilon—now known as the Oak Club—to organize a letter campaign among Harvard alumni, faculty, and staff to plead Farrales's case before the government. A Facebook page entitled “Save Mark Farrales” was also created to raise awareness and encourage support.
“Sitting on the other side of a glass and chicken wire partition, I spoke to Mark, and learned that he taught English to other detainees,” Chaput said. “He translates between the guards and the detainees. It’s amazing to me how positive he is about this, and it’s hard to capture how extraordinary of a person he is.”
Farrales is not the first Harvard College affiliate to face potential deportation—and be granted a deferral. Eric Balderas ’13 was propelled into the national spotlight last summer when he was detained in San Antonio, Texas after trying to board a plane with a consulate card and his Harvard identification.
Balderas said he could identify with Farrales’s situation. He avoided deportation to Mexico after being granted deferred action to stay in the United States temporarily.
“The Department of Homeland Security gave me deferred action to be able to finish my studies. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t do that with [Farrales] either,” Balderas said. “I may be able to renew deferred action when it expires after I graduate, but I’m not entirely sure I will have that option. It isn’t guaranteed.”
But Balderas identified some differences between himself and Farrales, noting that “Mr. Farrales is at a different point in his academic career, and he is older than me. I think a big part of why I was able to stay is that I am younger and in school at Harvard.”
“It’s worrisome that there are students at Harvard now that will transition from the situation Eric is in, at the University with resources available, to being in Mark’s shoes,” said Jofre. “It is such an injustice to know people will face that.”
For now, Farrales faces a waiting period—and a measure of uncertainty.
“The next step legally is waiting. I have no control over whether I will get another deferral or not,” Farrales said. “If the BIA decides to reopen the case, then I may have the opportunity to have my own day in court, for the first time in my life.”
—Staff writer Nadia L. Farjood can be reached at email@example.com.
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