Undocumented UC Berkeley student finally receives US work authorization

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Almost a year after being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, UC Berkeley senior Luis Mora received his U.S. employment authorization. Mora announced in a Facebook post Saturday that he is grateful to receive the permit, and he thanked his lawyer, Prerna Lal.

“A lot of people lose hope in the system. … I wasn’t hopeful that people would understand,” Mora said. “I was happy to be proven wrong.”

Mora and his girlfriend Jaleen Udarbe were driving back home Dec. 30, 2017 from a party in San Diego when they took a wrong turn and came upon a Border Patrol checkpoint.

Mora’s visa had expired two to three years prior, and he applied to DACA but was denied, according to Udarbe.

Border Patrol agents arrested Mora at the checkpoint, holding him in custody before sending him to ICE custody at Otay Mesa detention center in San Diego four days later. Mora recalled the terrible hygiene conditions he experienced while in custody and officers using fear tactics against detainees.

“No one should go through that treatment,” Mora said. “It’s very unprofessional and dehumanizing. I believe that’s something that has to change.”

Lal, who is a human rights and immigration lawyer, said they saw Udarbe’s post on Facebook about Mora’s detainment in Otay Mesa and reached out to him. Lal was then able to release Mora from the detention center Jan. 17 and get him back in school.

“When I first talked to him, I realized he was eligible for special immigrant juvenile status after being abandoned by his parents in the U.S.,” Lal said.

Now that Mora has received permission to work in the U.S., Lal said the next step is to make sure he gets his green card and is able to “live a full and complete life in the U.S.”

Mora’s current goal is to graduate from UC Berkeley and maybe take a year off to work, as he can legally do so now. Mora said in the past, finding work has been a struggle. It didn’t matter how qualified he was for the job — “If you don’t have social security, nobody is going to hire you.”

Inspired by the need for reform in the immigration system, Mora said he intends on pursuing immigration law and hopes to gain legal experience after graduation.

Mora encouraged other undocumented students to seek out legal resources and options. Mora said before coming to Berkeley, he was nervous because the application asks for social security information — which he did not have.

Mora said the immigration system is both uninformative and misinformative. But with Lal’s help, Mora’s goal of graduating from UC Berkeley and finding a steady job now is within reach.

“Just go out there and seek resources,” Mora said. “There’s always going to be a higher percentage of people who are going to be there for you.”


Contact Sabina Mahavni at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sabina_mahavni.

A previous version of the headline accompanying this article incorrectly stated that Luis Mora is no longer an undocumented student. In fact, Mora’s green card status is still pending.