A UC San Diego senior majoring in Mathematics-Computer Science spent five days in detention at the U.S.-Mexico border after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) authorities detained the student.
Israeli-born Orr Yakobi was finally released from federal custody at the Otay Mesa Detention Center on Friday, Jan. 12, after a number of political and other leaders lobbied for his freedom -- including lawmakers Scott Peters and Todd Gloria, as well as UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla, Computer Science and Engineering Chair Dean Tullsen, and Mathematics Chair Lei Ni. In Khosla's letter to the director of ICE's field office in San Diego, the Chancellor noted that Yakobi "is a valued and active member of our UC San Diego community, and we would very much like to have him return to our campus so he can fulfill his ultimate goal of obtaining his degree."
The 22-year-old Yakobi is part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, brought to the U.S. as children through no fault of their own. In Yakobi's case, he was five years old when his parents moved from Israel. When the DACA program was instituted, Yakobi applied to the program and was accepted. He has never traveled to Israel since he arrived in the U.S., speaks with an American accent, has been an honors student at UC San Diego, and expects to graduate this quarter with only a couple of courses to finish his degree. He is also a freelance computer programmer to help pay for school.
Last April, Yakobi and two fellow students won the university's top award for student startups in UC San Diego's The Basement incubator. Their startup -- Sin Fronteras Tax -- took first prize on Triton Entrepreneur Night. The company is an intermediary to facilitate speedy tax refunds for international workers who paid U.S. taxes but could not easily collect their refunds. (Yakobi estimated that billions of dollars in annual IRS refunds are not collected by immigrants out of fear that refund requests could put them on a watchlist for potential illegal migrants.
Despite being released from ICE custody, the UC San Diego student still faces possible deportation along with other DACA beneficiaries. The Administration has threatened to cancel DACA in March if Democrats in Congress do not approve billions of dollars in spending for a physical border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Even if DACA persists, Yakobi remains at risk of being dropped from DACA on a technicality: he was arrested after leaving an outlet mall near the border in San Ysidro with his UC San Diego roommate Ryan Hakim, who inadvertently drove onto I-5 South after exiting the mall -- not realizing that there were no more off-ramps on the U.S. side. Hakim and others launched an online petition to urge Yakobi's release; at last check, more than 7,500 signatures had been collected.
The DACA program forbids most travel outside the United States (without a special permit) as long as DACA children and young adults want to remain in the program. Yakobi was not driving, but after recognizing that there was no U.S. exit ahead of them, Hakim made a U-turn and was stopped by border agents. They took Yakobi into custody, handcuffed him, and began preliminary proceedings to deport the student (even though it was clear that he passed the border unintentionally just 45 seconds before making the U-turn).
As of Yakobi's release from detention, his attorney Jacob Sapochnick said Yakobi's DACA status had not been terminated. "There's nothing in the paper work," said Sapochnick. "As far as we know, it's a clean release." If deportation proceedings are not pursued by U.S. authorities, Yakobi should be able to complete his undergraduate degree by the end of March. But he and many other students in the DACA program will be watching closely what happens in Washington, D.C., especially given the March 5 deadline to end the program (unless an agreement between Congress and the Administration can be ironed out beforehand). Indeed, thousands of people protected by DACA are already in deportation proceedings at a rate of some 122 every day, and an estimated 22,000 will have lost their DACA protections by the March 5 deadline. If DACA is permanently axed, another ~700,000 people will lose the right to stay and work in the U.S. -- and they'll be obliged to return to home countries they don't remember, and in many cases where they don't even speak the language.