Community argues against deportation of student
November 9, 2010 11:18 PM
Steve Li, a 20-year-old nursing student, was in the bathroom getting ready on the morning of Sept. 15. He was headed to City College of San Francisco when he heard a knock on the door and found several Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officers standing outside his Ingleside home.
Li's mother, 50-year-old Li Maria Ma, thought they were members of the San Francisco Police Department and quickly allowed them inside.
"She thought they were there to investigate. She allowed them in, hoping to cooperate in whatever investigation," said Sin Yen Ling, Li's attorney from the Asian Law Caucus. "Neither she nor Steve knew they had a final order of deportation."
Li and his mother were separated and taken away by the officers in different cars.
He was well on track until he was detained for not being born in the U.S, marking the beginning of a long battle.
"I thought it was a mistake. I didn't know why they were (in my house)," said Li, who was unaware of his illegal status. "I was so shocked when they told me that I was going to be deported to Peru."
Li's supporters argue that he should be able to stay if the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act is passed.
The DREAM Act requires minors to immigrate to the U.S. before the age of 15 and be registered as a student in a U.S. college, requirements Li fulfills.
The bill did not gather enough votes in the Senate last September.
"What does it say on the Statue of Liberty? Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. What happened to Steve Li, we had made a mockery of those words," said Lawrence Wong, president of the Board of Trustees at CCSF, in a press conference held Nov. 5. "I know there will be a black mark in the history of this country if it's not passed."
Supervisor Eric Mar also came in support of Li at a press conference held at CCSF on Nov 5. He stood next to friends and teachers who all knew Li.
"This shines a light that it's not just a Middle Eastern or Arab issue. It's not just a Latino and Chicano issue. It's an Asian American issue as well when we fight for immigration justice," Mar said. "The solution after we free Steve Li is not just about one case but it's about fighting for comprehensive humane immigration reform."
Mar, along with Supervisors Chiu, Avalos, Campos, Mirkarimi and Dufty, sponsored a resolution denouncing Li's deportation and urging Congress to pass the DREAM Act.
"I feel great. It gives more motivation to do more because it actually confirms that no matter what, we tried. It just raises our chance of bringing Steve back," said Marilyn Luu, Li's close friend, after the board of supervisors passed the resolution.
Li's parents moved to Peru, where Li was born, to escape China's One Child Policy and government oppression.
According to Li, life in Peru was rough. One bloody incident left his mother permanently injured while the family lived in terror.
As a child, Li had constant nightmares.
"I immigrated to the United States to protect my child and provide a safe environment for him to live and learn," she said in a statement, read by Michelle Yeung of Chinese for Affirmative Action, at the press conference.
Li's friends and teachers organized the event on the 50th day of his detention.
The family moved to the U.S. using tourist visas when Li was 11. They applied for applied for asylum status soon after arriving, but were rejected in 2004.
"Due to his young age, we never tried to explain to Steve about the immigration process and our difficulties in gaining asylum status," Ma said.
Li's close friend, Christian Hip, 20, said Li did not know about his immigration status.
"Steve is going to be homeless.," Hip said. "He has nobody in Peru."
While Li remains in detention, his parents were released in Sacramento Oct. 4 with electronic ankle bracelets to track their movements and prevent them from leaving the country.
"China does not repatriate people who applied for political asylums," Ling said. "ICE wants to deport them, China won't take them back."
Peru, on the other hand, agreed to take Li.
Approximately two weeks after his arrest, he was transported to a detention center in Florence, Arizona.
"Steve's case is definitely unique because he doesn't have any time left. He has been incarcerated for 50 days," said Sang Chi, Li's former professor in Asian American studies at CCSF.
Those who knew Li said he is a good student and would be a valuable asset to the community.
"It's not like his intention is to take advantage of the system. He wants to get a degree. He wants to serve the society as a nurse," said Albert Robelo, 27, a SF State Summer Science Institute head tutor. "That's his goal. That's his dream, and now, he could be denied."
According to Hip, his friend was active in the community and volunteered at his church and SF General Hospital.
Lilia Sanchez, Li's personal mentor at SSI, said Li has a great prospect in the health care field.
"I see so much potential in this kid," Sanchez said. "He would've done a lot for the community."
According to SF State's website, SSI is a yearlong science program established to help "economically and/or educationally disadvantaged undergraduates" to achieve success in the health care field.
Sanchez said Li went through an interview and was one of only 20 applicants accepted in the program.
Currently, Li's friends, family and attorney are working to push Senator Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein to pass a private bill that would allow Li to stay in the country until the DREAM Act is passed.
"The community support means a lot to me," Li said in a phone interview. "Just having so many people behind my back makes me really hopeful that I will be able to go out of here. I am really thankful."
Li's case became an online sensation when a Facebook page called "Help bring Steve Li back home!!!" garnered more than 7,000 subscribers.
"Our goal is 10,000 petitions," said Marilyn Nguyen Luu, Li's close friend and the creator of the Facebook page.
Now when Li awakes, he goes to work in the Florence Correctional Facility's kitchen for $1 per hour, just enough to buy stamps to send letters to family and friends.
"One day I was in my home doing homework. Right now, here, I work 24 hour a day, just waiting to get out or even be deported," Li said. "That's a big change for me."
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