Freed, Dreamer Yakobi is a Changed Man

Orr Yakobi, after being detained and released at the Mexico-United States border, is now working to destigmatize immigration with an upcoming project.

Four weeks ago, Orr Yakobi was detained by border officials on the Mexico-United States border. As a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Yakobi was technically not allowed to leave the country without documentation. After a wrong turn while returning from shopping at Las Americas Premium Outlets, he and roommate Ryan Hakim accidentally ended up on a one-way road to Mexico. Yakobi was detained and released after a few days, with much support from the local community.

Now, he looks relaxed, despite midterm season being in full swing. It’s the John Muir fourth year’s final quarter studying mathematics-computer science.

Prior to being thrust into the limelight, Yakobi was a private person. He never actively brought up his experiences but was open to discussing [them] if asked. “If I ran into somebody who asked me about this sort of thing, I’d answer their questions or dispel anything I thought was wrong — more on a personal, not very public, level. I like to keep to myself,” he explained.

Since then, his perspective on life has changed. Yakobi says he’s become more appreciative of his life. While he was detained, he met many different types of people who had also been detained for various reasons.

“One of them had a DUI and didn’t have a status, so they got brought there. A lot of the time people call [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], and they’ll just come pick you up. For the most part, they were all nice people who got stuck in a bad situation. It was humbling, honestly. You realize, you have,” he said, gesturing and grabbing a case from the table, “nice headphones and a phone, and all this stuff. Thank God for that. These people literally have not a cent to their name.”

He adds, “All these problems you have, like Chipotle ran out of guacamole, or something stupid like that it doesn’t really matter. This situation just made me realize that life is short and you should appreciate what you have.”

Yakobi did receive a large amount of support from those around him and the local community. His parents hired Jacob Sapochnick, an immigration attorney, to help. A few politicians supported the effort to get him released too, including Sen. Kamala Harris.

“I did [know that people would support me], but at the same time, it’s not the first thought that goes through your head. I got detained on Sunday, and I got moved to some other place on Tuesday, and Wednesday or Thursday, I started seeing it on the news myself on the TVs there. I was freaking out.”

After he was released, Yakobi says there was such a large outpouring of support that it was overwhelming.

“You go from being locked up to all of a sudden, everyone’s in your face like ‘Oh what happened? Are you OK?’ It’s not a jail, but you are locked up … You don’t have freedom … I took a few days to unwind and right after that I got back into it. The turn of events happened so quickly. The school was super helpful. The Dean in Muir really helped me out and reached out to ask if I was OK.”

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While he is certainly not happy about the event that transpired, Yakobi explains that he thinks everything happens for a reason. He believes that many of his friends and acquaintances have become more supportive of DACA after seeing him get detained.

“At the very least, I’m glad that people saw DACA as not this negative thing. A lot of people read the story and reached out to me, saying ‘Before, I thought DACA was stupid,’ and now they reach out and say ‘You really brought light to these issues and we get it now.’”

Yakobi denies being an activist, but he is certainly becoming more active. “It hits you in the face after something like this,” he says.

Putting his computer science and software freelancer skills to use, Yakobi is now working with Sapochnick to create a web platform with a social media campaign to support immigrants and dispel negative misconceptions about them.

He calls it his “soul project.”

“I just want to bring light to the whole fact that these are not bad people. They’re just like everyone else, trying to live their life,” he points out. “I was reading a lot of the comments on news posts, Facebook, and Twitter … a lot of it is very negative. And the fact that it’s negative doesn’t bother me, but the fact that it’s not true does bother me a lot, like, ‘immigrants don’t pay taxes.’ Immigrants pay taxes. Things like this put a negative light on immigrants when they’re just not true.”

The website is also expected to incorporate software that helps users file and renew their DACA status. “We’re in touch with this tech firm that creates immigration software,” Yakobi explains. “The term they use is the Turbotax for immigration.”

Yakobi has big dreams for the website. He enthusiastically says Assemblyman Todd Gloria was excited about the project when the two met and said it was a good idea.

“It could have some impact if it had some political backing, and I just want to get it out there. I hope it will make a difference.”

For now, he just calls it his “soul project, one of those projects you just work on because you’re really dedicated to it,” he defines.

In the meantime, Yakobi is also worried about our country’s current political affairs. He is getting close to renewing his DACA, but can’t until mid-February.

“It’s kind of a tricky situation, because it’s too early for me to renew. What happens is the more you wait … every day something changes. I’m on pins and needles.”

However, he also believes that there is widespread bipartisan support for immigration reform. “From what I’ve seen, they both want a solution from DACA to greencard to citizenship,” Yakobi says, “That’s what I’ve seen on both sides of the aisle.”

Yakobi’s biggest gripe is the way DACA is tied to other political hot-button issues like the wall.

“The issue I’m really having is all of these back-and-forths and contingencies on having the wall and Border Patrol. I don’t like how it’s being bundled. Like, ‘you’ll get DACA but you also need $25 billion for the wall.’ That’s inhumane and cold.”

DREAMers have to worry more about the consequences of their actions, whereas the rest of us don’t. In addition to the everyday stresses of college, these students have to deal with a fear of DACA not getting the political support it needs. This quarter is Yakobi’s last at UC San Diego. Now that this whole mess is over, all he wants to do is study for his midterms.

“Do well in school. Lockdown full-time job offer,” he laughs. “I’m trying to get back to my life.”

Photo provided by Sean Paknoosh