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Undocumented UC Berkeley student released from detention center, returns to Bay Area

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Luis Mora, in an October 2016 file image while student at Southwestern College. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

An undocumented UC Berkeley student was greeted by friends and supporters at the Oakland this evening after spending nearly three weeks in a private prison facility.

Luis Mora, a pre-law student, was arrested last month at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection checkpoint near San Diego.

“If the president is watching this, I’d like to inform him this is what an immigrant really looks like,” Mora said in a video posted to Twitter from the Oakland Airport. “We’re not drug dealers, we’re not criminals, and we’re not here to hurt your democracy. We’re here to make it even better.”

Mora came to the U.S. at age 11, but is not eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. He arrived here with his mother when she was seeking medical treatment for cancer, but overstayed his visa. She left the country after he started college. He was born in Columbia, but his family comes from Ecuador, according to Lal.

Prerna Lal, Mora’s attorney through UC Berkeley’s Undocumented Student Program, tweeted on Wednesday an order signed by Immigration Judge Ana Partida that Mora be released on a $1,500 bond. Lal organized a crowd-funding campaign to pay the bond.

Mora was arrested Dec. 30 at a checkpoint roughly 25 miles north of the Mexican border in the Jamul area of unincorporated San Diego County while visiting family over winter break.

He was then transferred into the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and held at Otay Mesa Detention Center, a privately run prison facility accused of violating human trafficking laws in a recently filed class-action lawsuit.

Lal said security guards and deportation officers made Mora work without pay as a translator for other detainees while at Otay Mesa. “Sounds like forced labor to me,” Lal said.

Mora’s arrest spurred a campaign by his peers at UC Berkeley, Bay Area activists and local leaders like Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin. The mayor supported Mora’s release, tweeting “I have contacted @ICEgov urging them to #FreeLuis. It is people like Luis Mora that make our nation great, and we cannot afford to lose him.”

Elected leaders at the federal level, such as U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., issued statements on Mora’s behalf.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., questioned head of the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen over Mora’s continued detention during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Jan. 16.

Mora’s release also comes amid reports that ICE agents are planning a massive sweep to detain undocumented immigrants across the Bay Area.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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