UC Berkeley student being held by ICE in Southern California

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By Bay City News Service

A student at the University of California at Berkeley is being held by immigration authorities in the San Diego area for violating the conditions of his visa, according to federal officials.

Luis Angel Mora Villota, a 20-year-old pre-law student who goes by Luis Mora, made a wrong turn and ended up at a border checkpoint, according to his lawyer.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol confirmed that Mora was apprehended Dec. 30 in the Jamul area of unincorporated San Diego County. She could not comment on the specific circumstances of his arrest, but did confirm the presence of a checkpoint in that area.

Prerna Lal, a staff attorney at the East Bay Community Law Center providing legal services for Mora through UC Berkeley's Undocumented Student Program, said on Twitter that her client is currently behind held at the Otay Mesa Detention Facility in San Diego County.

"There's no reason to detain him. He's not a criminal. He's not a flight risk," Lal told KTVU on Friday.

Otay Mesa is a private prison facility located less than two miles from the border, and according to the Los Angeles Times, it is the subject of a federal class-action lawsuit filed in December alleging that conditions inside violate human trafficking laws.

Lal has been active on social media, saying Wednesday evening that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is required to issue Mora a Notice to Appear - which is one of the first steps in placing a person into deportation proceedings - within 72 hours and has not yet done so.

"Luis Mora's continued CBP Detention is officially in the unlawful zone," Lal said. "Whatever happened to the rule of law? You can't hold someone at CBP indefinitely."

Lal is fighting to get ICE to set bail by Monday so Mora can be released pending a hearing before a judge. 

"I'm confident that he'll be released. I have no doubt about that, but I just don't know when that will be," Lal said. She estimated it could be anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000. By her estimation, the best-case scenario is that bond would be set and Mora would be back at Cal by Tuesday in time to start classes on January 16. However, Lal acknowledges it could it could take weeks, or months to secure his release. 

"He's been very honest. He's told them everything," said Lal. 

A spokeswoman for ICE said in a statement, "Mr. Mora was taken into custody after border patrol agents determined that he had violated the terms and conditions of a temporary visa he had been issued for a period of six months in 2009." 

Lal says Mora is at no fault and that he was a child at that time and he didn't have the resources to go through the proper channels when he was 18-years- old. 

Activists have organized a social media campaign urging members of the public to call for Mora's release under the hashtag #FreeLuis. One infographic in circulation says to call (619) 557-6117 and urge ICE officials to "exercise prosecutorial discretion."

If an expired visa is your biggest crime, they're trying to set an example using Luis as a bargaining chip," said Valeria Suarez, co-chair of RISE (Rising Immigrant Scholars through Education). 

"It's costing you and me $200 a night to house him there when he can be at school. He can be productive," said Lal. 

KTVU reporter Amber Lee contributed to this report