(NEW YORK) — A Belgian who spent his childhood growing up illegally in the U.S. before being deported swam across the busy Detroit River from Canada because he had been denied a visa, his lawyer told ABC News.
Sam Smolders, 24, was arrested after reaching the U.S. shore and is being held in jail.
“It was incredibly dangerous and you’d have to be desperate to do it,” said his lawyer James Gerometta said.
Smolders came to the U.S. as a 5-year-old but was deported at age 18 when he tried to enlist in the army and government officials noticed there was a problem with his documentation.
When repeated attempts to return legally failed, Smolders came up with alternate plan, a solution he referred to on social media as “Plan B.”
Smolders, a video game designer who created the game “Victim of Zen,” was picked up on Sept.5 by border agents, still soaking wet, by the river’s boardwalk. Having crossed what Gerometta describes as a “wide and busy” section of the Detroit River, Smolders was discovered fishing his belongings out the water, according to the arrest complaint.
When approached by officers Smolders alleged he was harassed by three men who threw him into the river, the complaint states. After agents ran background checks, however, they discovered Smolders was a citizen of Belgium who was denied entry to the U.S. in 2008. He was then arrested on suspicion of entering the country illegally.
Smolders spent much of his childhood in Arizona, but was forced to leave his friends when it was discovered his mother had him there illegally.
“What his mother did should not affect him,” said Michael McFarland, 63, Smolder’s friend and former taekwondo instructor. “There’s not a reason in the world they’d want to keep him out.”
After years back in Europe trying to follow all the correct channels, Smolders felt, “a little desperate” when a visa request was denied earlier this year, according to Gerometta. “He considers himself an American. He doesn’t want to be illegal. He considers America his home.”
Gerometta admits the arrest puts Smolders in a weak situation but hopes that under the philosophy of the Dream Act, he will be allowed to return to Belgium to apply once more for legal entry to the U.S.
The Dream Act, a policy pushed by the Obama administration to not punish the kids of illegal citizens, seeks to protect people like Smolders, but because Smolders has been out of the country so long he would not qualifiy.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio