LOS ANGELES, California - A Filipino Harvard graduate detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for allegedly being an illegal immigrant has been released.
In a phone interview with ABS-CBN North America News Bureau, ICE said they granted a "deferred action" to Mark Farrales for one year to afford him "additional time to pursue his options."
Farrales, 31, was detained at the Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster, California last October.
Farrales's supporters in the Filipino-American community were happy about his release.
The online petition against the deportation of Farrales was started by University of California San Diego students where Farrales is getting a doctorate degree.
Filipino organizations in LA’s Historic Filipinotown joined this effort. This is the place where Farrales grew up and graduated valedictorian of his high school class.
"When the community hears of one of its own, who went out and was doing really well, and being targeted unfairly, then of course, people will come out. There's the petition, there's the letter-writing to the senators in his support," said Jollene Levid.
"He has gone through so much and has come from nothing and been able to make a lot for himself," said Mark Ramos, a youth leader who supported Farrales.
In a statement he posted on Facebook, Farrales thanked his hundreds of supporters who actively contacted US government officials to help him.
“I am absolutely shocked and dumbfounded by this level of support. I cannot find the words to express just how I feel. It’s an overwhelming feeling, a transcendental feeling, a transformative feeling,” Farrales wrote on Facebook.
He added, “From a purely legal standpoint, my journey is far from over. My release from detention – as wonderful as it is – is but the first step. I face many months, probably years, of legal struggle. But at least I am out. And I am with my family on Christmas Day. And I have your love and support.”
“I truly feel blessed. I wish you all the best and hope that this holiday season you feel the love of your friends and family.”
Farrales was only 10 years old when his family flew to America. Jaime, Farrales’s father, filed for political asylum after he was nearly killed due to his political activities in the Philippines, according to Farrales's interview with The Los Angeles Times.
While his father's political asylum for the family was ongoing, Farrales went on to excel in school and graduated with top honors at Harvard University.
However, when his father died, Farrales's future as an American became unclear.
The Filipino-American community was dismayed when they heard about the Fil-Am Harvard graduate's immigration problem.
Filipino groups have been joining the call for US President Barack Obama's administration to consider the cases of exemplary young immigrants like Farrales.
“Every day they work so hard to try to battle and get good grades and go to college. That's what they came here for. They try so hard and all of sudden, everything can be taken away," said youth leader Ramos.
Community leaders are also asking the Filipino-American community to step up in this and other immigration cases.
"Stop your apathy. Be involved. There are 1.5 million Filipinos who have no papers or [are] undocumented. It doesn't matter if we're citizens here, it doesn't matter if we're Democrats or Republicans. Help other Filipinos. If you're a Filipino, you will help your fellow Filipinos," said Arturo Garcia, Historic Filipinotown community leader.
Because of the failure of the DREAM Act, the measure that could have paved the way for the legalization of the students who are children of illegal immigrants, many young Pinoys who have lived in America most of their lives are living in fear of deportation.
Some of them, like Farrales, are hoping to get green cards through private immigration bills that lawmakers can file for immigrants with extraordinary cases.
The US Congress and President Obama can approve these bills. Though it's a rarely approved immigration tactic, on December 22, Obama signed bills that granted legal status to 2 Japanese nationals. It was the first private immigration bill approval in 5 years.