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UCSD 'Dreamer' arrested after wrong turn into Mexico

UCSD 'Dreamer' arrested after wrong turn into Mexico
Orr Yakobi, 22, is originally from Israel and came to the U.S. with his family when he was about 5. (Courtesy Sean Paknoosh)

On the day before Orr Yakobi's final quarter at UC San Diego, he was arrested by border officials after his roommate took a wrong turn and drove into Mexico.

Yakobi, 22, is originally from Israel and came to the U.S. on a visa with his family when he was about 5, according to his attorney. He continued to live in the U.S. after his visa expired.

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He joined the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, in 2013, his attorney said, which gave him a renewable two-year permit protecting him from deportation and authorizing him to work. DACA does not authorize recipients to reenter the U.S. if they leave.

Ryan Hakim, 20, the roommate who was with Yakobi during his arrest, said he knew Yakobi couldn't leave the U.S. but never knew why. Before the incident, it seemed irrelevant to their friendship, he said.

The two roommates were shopping Sunday at Las Americas Premium Outlets, a bustling shopping center off the last exit in the U.S. for the 5 and 805 freeways. They wanted to spend a little time together before school made their lives busier.

Yakobi bought cologne, and Hakim bought sweatpants.

When they were done shopping, they got into Hakim's Volkswagen Jetta to go home.

They weren't familiar with the area, Hakim said, so when he turned left onto the 805 Freeway from Camino de la Plaza, neither thought they were heading for Mexico.

"Once we entered the freeway, we didn't have a safe opportunity to avoid crossing the border, nor did we have time to react or come up with a solution to prevent crossing the border," Hakim said. "Entering Mexico was a complete and honest mistake."

It took them about 45 seconds to leave the country, he said.

Yakobi was scared, Hakim recalled. He knew that he didn't have documents to reenter the U.S.

"I was freaking out as the driver, and he was freaking out for his own safety," Hakim said.

As soon as they were in Mexico, Hakim turned back toward the border. When he pulled up to a Customs and Border Protection officer, they tried to explain what happened, showing her receipts with time stamps to prove they'd just been shopping at Las Americas.

It didn't matter, Hakim said. She sent them to secondary inspection.

After officers questioned Yakobi inside the port of entry, they took him away in handcuffs.

"CBP officers determined that Mr. Yakobi is currently inadmissible to the U.S.; he was turned over to agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement," said CBP spokeswoman Jacqueline Wasiluk.

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Yakobi was placed in a temporary holding cell before being transferred to Otay Mesa Detention Center. A spokeswoman from Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed that he is still being held there while he waits for a hearing with an immigration judge.

His lawyer, Jacob Sapochnick, is working to get him released while his court case is pending so that he can finish his degree.

"All I can think about is Orr. I'm having a hard time focusing in my classes," Hakim said. "It was all innocent. There was no intention of leaving. It makes it more frustrating that this guy was not trying to leave the country. He's an American. He lives in this country."

Hakim said Yakobi taught him how to approach the world with positivity and self-confidence.

"He's one of the most impactful people I have ever met in my life," Hakim said.

Hakim rallied Yakobi's friends, the Jewish community and the university community to help.

A petition he posted online calling for Yakobi's release gathered 761 signatures in the hours after it went up.

Yakobi is majoring in computer science and was already freelancing as a programmer. He was part of a prize-winning start-up team at the university last year.

He also worked as a DJ in the Los Angeles area, a business he started in high school with a friend.

UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla sent a letter to ICE on Yakobi's behalf calling for his release.

"He 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," Khosla wrote.

Politicians including Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego), Assemblyman Todd Gloria (D-San Diego), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Porter Ranch) are also trying to help, Yakobi's attorney said.

Morrissey writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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