BOSTON — An undocumented Harvard University student is facing deportation to Mexico after being detained by immigration authorities at a Texas airport, the student said Friday.
Eric Balderas, 19, who just completed his first year at Harvard, said he was detained Monday by immigration authorities when he tried to board a plane from his hometown of San Antonio to Boston using a consulate card from Mexico and his student ID.
"I'd made it through before so I thought this time wouldn't be any different," Balderas said Friday in a phone interview with The Associated Press. "But once ICE picked me up I really didn't know what to think and I was starting to break down."
Balderas, who previously had used a Mexican passport to board planes but recently lost it, said he became despondent and thought he was being deported to Mexico immediately, only to be released the next day. He said he has a scheduled July 6 immigration hearing.
"All I can think about was my family," said Balderas, who doesn't remember living in Mexico.
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman, Mark Medvesky, confirmed that Balderas was released and said his hearing will likely be in Boston.
Harvard officials immediately threw support behind Balderas.
"Eric Balderas has already demonstrated the discipline and work ethic required for rigorous university work, and has, like so many of our undergraduates, expressed an interest in making a difference in the world," said Christine Heenan, Harvard's vice president of public affairs and communications.
The case also sparked a buzz on social media sites and among student immigrant activists who see the Balderas situation as the ideal test case to push the proposed DREAM act – a federal bill that would allow illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship via college enrollment or military service.
Mario Rodas, who was an undocumented student in Chelsea, a small city near Boston, until Sen. John Kerry and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy came to his aid, launched a Facebook page Friday highlighting the Balderas case. "He's an excellent student and an example of someone this country needs," said Rodas.
The page said that Balderas was brought to the U.S. from Mexico by his family at age 4 escape a domestic violence situation.
A feature in the San Antonio Express-News last year said the graduate of Highlands High School in San Antonio was accepted into several small liberal arts colleges but chose to attend Harvard, where he has a full scholarship.
Balderas said he is studying molecular and cellular biology at Harvard and hopes to become a cancer researcher. He said he qualified for Harvard's privately-funded scholarship package.
"I'm a private person so this is a change for me," he said.
In March, Balderas was one of hundreds of undocumented students to publicly announce his immigration status during a nationally organized "coming out" day for illegal immigrants.
Balderas also has been an active member of student immigrant groups around Boston that have staged protests and sit-ins in an effort to get Sen. Scott Brown, R-Massachusetts, to support the DREAM Act.
Brown has not said whether he supports the proposal, also called the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act. The bill is sponsored by Indiana Republican Sen. Richard Lugar and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, of Illinois.
In April, Lugar and Durbin sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, asking her to halt deportations of immigrant students who could earn legal status under the act.
A number of college presidents have supported the legislation, including Harvard President Drew Faust, who sent a letter to Kerry and Kennedy urging them to pass it.
Kyle de Beausset, a Boston-based student activist and a friend of Balderas, said student activists are ready to rally behind him.