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Harvard student won’t face deportation

ICE defers action on illegal resident’s case

Eric Balderas will be allowed to stay in the United States for a period of time, apply for a work permit, and continue his studies at Harvard. Eric Balderas will be allowed to stay in the United States for a period of time, apply for a work permit, and continue his studies at Harvard. (David L. Ryan/ Globe Staff)
By Maria Sacchetti
Globe Staff / June 19, 2010

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Eric Balderas, a 19-year-old Harvard biology student who became an international celebrity last week after being arrested for being in the United States unlawfully, is no longer facing deportation to Mexico, officials said last night.

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency informed US Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois late yesterday that it would not pursue Balderas’s deportation, said Max Gleischman, a spokesman for Durbin. The Illinois Democrat had lobbied the agency on behalf of Balderas.

The soft-spoken Harvard sophomore’s arrest on June 7 as he tried to board an airplane back to Boston after visiting his mother in San Antonio triggered international outcry, support from Harvard officials, and a Facebook page with more than 5,500 people lobbying for him.

Balderas’s friends and supporters cheered the news last night. His parents had brought him here from Mexico when he was 4, and he was raised in San Antonio, where he was valedictorian of Highlands High School. He had feared being deported to a country he barely remembered, and hoped to become a cancer researcher one day. Balderas could not be reached for comment late last night after the decision was made.

“My reaction was hallelujah; I was just absolutely thrilled,’’ said his former history teacher, Jan Archer, in San Antonio. “It’s like somebody up there understands the situation and that he’s really a great person and the kind of people we want here in this country.’’

ICE spokesman Brian P. Hale confirmed in a statement that Balderas had been granted deferred action, a discretionary authority that federal immigration officials can use to halt a deportation based on the merits of an individual’s case.

An official with the Department of Homeland Security, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter, said it was not immediately clear how long Balderas’s deferred action would last. Homeland Security oversees the immigration agency.

Balderas will be allowed to stay in the United States for a period of time, apply for a work permit, and continue his studies at Harvard. He could apply to renew the deferred action when it expires, the official said.

In the past, ICE has delayed the deportations of college students and other young people such as Walter Lara of Florida, a former college student from Argentina who won a temporary reprieve after a massive Internet-fueled campaign to prevent his deportation.

Balderas, who is spending the summer conducting research, was detained while trying to board an airplane in Texas using his Harvard student identification and his Mexican consular card. He had lost his passport from Mexico, and was ordered to appear in court for possible deportation.

His detention thrust him into the center of a national debate over illegal immigration. The Obama administration has pointed to his case and others as reason for Congress to create a path to legal residency for the estimated 12 million immigrants in the United States illegally.

But critics say it is unfair to allow people who broke the law to jump ahead of those who have waited for years to come to the United States legally. They say the economy still needs to find jobs for people who are US citizens or legal immigrants.

In April, Arizona passed the most restrictive immigration law in the country, allowing police to question the immigration status of anyone they reasonably suspect is here without papers.

Last month, the Massachusetts Senate followed suit with a battery of amendments that sought to restrict illegal immigrants’ access to government benefits and other services.

In an interview Thursday, Balderas appeared exhausted, tense, and fearful of being deported. After his arrest, he said, he felt helpless and even suicidal. He said he was grateful for the outpouring of support, but was eager just to work in the laboratory for the summer and to return to his studies.

“I can’t wait until this is past,’’ he said. “I just like being down in the lab, doing my thing.’’

Friends said he probably would continue his studies at Harvard and keep fighting for the Dream Act, proposed federal legislation that would allow immigrant youths in his predicament to apply for legal residency. Durbin is a cosponsor of the Dream Act, which has been pending since 2001.

In San Antonio, his former government teacher, Martie Enriquez, sighed in relief that Balderas would not immediately face deportation, but she worried that his troubles may not be over.

“I think that part of his nightmare is over,’’ she said. “But it’s not all over. He can take a breather for right now.’’

Maria Sacchetti can be reached at msacchetti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @mariasacchetti.

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