Saturday, April 30, 2011

UC honor student faces deportation (

UC honor student faces deportation
2:56 PM, Apr. 30, 2011
Written by Mark Curnutte

A University of Cincinnati student, described by an administrator as having once-in-a-decade talent in information technology, faces a May 20 hearing in immigration court in Buffalo, N.Y., that could lead to his deportation.

Elier Lara, 19, was brought to the United States legally at age 4 from Mexico by his parents. They overstayed their 180-day non-immigrant visa. If deported, Lara would face a 10-year ban before being allowed to reapply for entry.

People across the country are working to prevent his removal. They include a law professor at the University of Texas and several of her law students, an immigration lawyer in Buffalo, family members and supporters at UC and Ross High School.

Lara, a 2010 graduate of Ross High School, was arrested at Buffalo Niagara International Airport nearly a year ago - May 27, 2010 - when he tried to board a flight to Cincinnati. He had been able to fly to Buffalo on a student identification card with a Ross teacher and three classmates for a national entrepreneurial competition. U.S. Border Patrol agents plucked him from a security line when he could not produce a government-issued ID.

Agents scanned his body and finger-printed him before his release.

"I couldn't help but tear up when I talked to my dad,'' Lara said. "I was more worried about my parents at the time."

Lara's attorneys are trying to prevent a deportation order. They have asked Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials in Buffalo for deferred-action status.

If Lara receives deferred-action status, the prosecutor and defense attorney could file a joint motion with the immigration judge that removal proceedings end. With deferred-action status, Lara would be eligible for an employment authorization card and Social Security number, required for a driver's license. Such status is renewable annually.

His attorneys say Lara, who volunteers in a computer lab and has no criminal record, should benefit from "prosecutorial discretion" called for by federal immigration officials in 2000 and 2007 to make best use of financial and personnel resources.

Created in 2003 as part of the Department of Homeland Security, ICE enforces federal criminal and civil laws that govern border control, customs, trade and immigration, including the removal of illegal immigrants.

Contacted about Lara, an ICE spokesman said Friday the agency could not comment on an individual's pending case.

Lara, an honor student in math and science, has a plan, regardless of his outcome.

"I will finish college, get a job and support my family - no matter where I am," he told the Enquirer in an interview at his family's Butler County home. "I would like to stay here. It would be easier to finish my bachelor's in two years and then get my master's."

Lara's work ethic, volunteerism and academic strengths in science and math would help his adoptive country compete where it has fallen behind other nations, the lawyer said.

"This is a very good kid," said Matthew Kolken, the immigration attorney in Buffalo who took Lara's case pro bono less than two weeks ago. "He already is an asset to this country."

Lara was brought to the United States at age 4 in 1996 from the northern Mexico border state of Tamaulipas. Today, it is a site of violence and murder related to the Mexican government's crackdown on drug cartels.

Lara has a younger brother and sister, both U.S.-born citizens. The family is considering several options if Elier is forced to leave the country, mostly choices that would split the family.

"I would not know which of my children to stay with," his mother said through an interpreter. "Do I get on a plane with my oldest child and leave my youngest two here? Do I just let my oldest child go and stay with the younger ones?

"I do know where they would send him that he would be killed."

Lara's parents say they have tried legal means to gain status. On April 27, 2001, Lara's uncle, a U.S. citizen, filed a petition on behalf of citizenship for Lara's father, an undocumented immigrant who works as a laborer.

The filing provides no relief, status or protection. It simply puts Lara's father in a line for Mexican immigrants attempting to gain U.S. citizenship. Petitions are back-logged to February 1996. Globally, 65,000 of these sibling-oriented petitions are granted each year.

Lara graduated with a 3.8 grade point average from Ross. His class rank was 11 of 220. He scored 31 on the ACT standardized college entrance exam.

"Elier's ambition, motivation and leadership abilities are an inspiration to everyone he encounters," said Thomas O'Neill, an instructor in computers and information technology who was with him at the Buffalo airport. "His cognitive abilities are to be envied. His character traits are to be emulated."

Lara entered his current term at UC with a 3.8 GPA and will end his first year on campus with 78 credit hours. He started with 34 hours earned in advanced placement high school courses.

A longtime UC administrator and former professor, Cheryll Dunn, predicted Lara's success in an endorsement letter written in November.

"I have worked with thousands of students over the past 30 years, and Elier Lara is that student who comes along every 10 years or so who makes your heart sing," wrote Dunn, a former associate dean in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

For his part, Lara has dealt with his uncertain future - even before his arrest in Buffalo - by committing himself to his studies. Unable to work legally without immigration status, he formed a computer repair company with some classmates.

He lives at home and, without a driver's license, rides a Metro bus to and from UC.

Lara is one of an estimated 65,000 students without immigration status who graduate from U.S. high schools each year. There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, as many as 60,000 - mostly Hispanics - without status in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

Young people brought here without a say as dependent children were the focus of failed federal Dream Act legislation, passed by the House but defeated in the Senate in December. The legislation would provide them a narrow path to legal U.S. residency and naturalization through academic achievement or military service.

Dream Act supporters keep pushing the bill.

The most recent version of the Dream Act would apply only to immigrants brought to the country before age 16. They would have to have lived in the United States for more than five years and have to be under age 30 when the bill becomes law. A 10-year probationary period would need to be met before the granting of a green card. Another three years would have to pass before a person would be eligible for naturalization. One felony or three misdemeanor convictions disqualifies an applicant.

In a letter dated April 13, top Democrat senators Dick Durbin of Illinois and Harry Reid of Nevada asked President Obama to suspend deportations of students who would have benefited from Dream Act legislation. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) is a co-sponsor.

Lara would benefit from passage and would be able to continue his education uninterrupted at UC, which admitted him as an international student. His father pays the tuition in cash, about $25,000 a year, compared to a little more than $10,000 for an in-state, Ohio student.

Lara frets the cost, yet his father, a former school administrator in Mexico, tells his son, "Just worry about sleeping, eating and studying."

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