Henrique Faria left his job as a lawyer in Brazil to study advanced tax law at Berkeley. Although he finished the program with high honors in 2018, he ended up broke, jobless and deported.
He is now suing over his ordeal – but faces an uphill battle because the university is claiming it is legally immune for the admitted bungle that triggered his nightmare.
In a recent interview, 36-year-old Faria recalled what he called an “amazing” year studying with 250 students from around the world. He was praised by the dean as one of the most promising tax lawyers of his generation, and soon landed a coveted job at a New York accounting firm, Ernst and Young.
“I was very happy, it was the best news I had in my entire life -- so i moved to New York and I was ready to start my job,” Faria told NBC Bay Area.
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But the school gave Faria the wrong deadline to file his immigration paperwork. Under the rules, the university, as Faria’s sponsor, had sole access to the data in his file and was responsible for notifying him of that date.
Because the date the school provided, May 9, was off by three days, Faria ended up missing the true May 6 deadline by two days. The law school program’s director, Ivor Emmanuel, wrote immigration authorities seeking an exception on Faria’s behalf. Emmanuel also wrote Ernst and Young, saying he “deeply regretted the error.” In the end, immigration officials did not grant an exception.
Faria had already moved to New York when he got more bad news from Emmanuel, who “told me they were not able to help me anymore financially. They told me to go back to Brazil, my country, and await the decision there.”
But when he arrived at Kennedy Airport in New York to take his flight home, Faria was detained by federal authorities, and found himself being escorted to his plane in shackles. Asked for comment, immigration officials say they will not discuss specifics of his or any other individual cases.
“I was handcuffed and it was the worst experience of my life,” Faria said. “Everyone was staring at me, like this is probably a criminal or that he committed some kind of felony crime. It was terrible.“
Immigration authorities did confirm Faria was detained at the airport by Customs and Border Protection agents.
“Henrique lost everything – he was on his way to achieve an amazing career. Berkeley slammed the door on his face,” said Julia Stedile, one of Faria’s lawyers suing the UC Regents, seeking to recover $100,000 in loans and other costs, along with damages.
While the law school told us it cannot comment on pending litigation, the university said in a statement: “Speaking generally regarding our process, the campus makes its best effort to support its students who are navigating the complexities of the immigration system”
But in court, the university claims it’s immune when it fails that effort, invoking a longstanding legal precedent “shielding officials from harassment, distraction, and liability” for routine administrative errors.
But Stedile argues the school had a contractual obligation to international students like Faria who come to California to advance their legal careers.
“They are hiding behind legalities, and they are not taking responsibility for what they caused him,” she said. “They caused him to lose his career and shut down his dreams. They are not taking responsibility for that.”
A judge in Alameda County Superior Court is expected to decide soon whether to grant the university’s motion to throw out much or all of Faria’s case based on the legal immunity argument.