By Rupa Dev
New America Media
More than 80 students and community members gathered outside California Sen. Barbara Boxer’s office on Nov. 12 to protest the scheduled deportation of Steve Li, a 20-year-old nursing student, on Nov. 15.
Li, a student at San Francisco City College, is currently being detained in an immigration jail in Arizona, where he faces deportation to Peru. Ethnically Chinese, Li was born in Peru but has lived in San Francisco for the past eight years. He and his family were arrested during an immigration raid at their home.
Supporters gathered together late morning and stayed there all day making phone calls to the offices of Sen. Boxer, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, asking them to intercede on Li’s behalf. Li’s supporters urged the lawmakers to pass the DREAM Act, saying Li’s plight underscores the importance of legislation that would give undocumented students a path to citizenship.
Despite their efforts, they said they feared Li would be deported on Monday, according to confidential information obtained by his lawyers. Tense-faced supporters nervously clenched their phones, as they made repeated calls to the lawmakers’ offices, racing against the clock to make a difference in Li’s case.
“The last few weeks have come out of nowhere,” said Jonathon Jaranilla, 20, a City College student. “We’ve been doing everything we can, but time is a problem.”
Sin Yen Ling, Li’s attorney and lead counsel for the San Francisco-based Asian Law Caucus, said all Boxer needs to do is say that she wants to issue a private bill or pick up the phone and call ICE on Li’s behalf.
“As someone who has received the support of the Asian American community, it should not be a hard task for her to do,” Ling said.
Calls to Boxer’s office were directed to voicemail, due to the high call volume, according to a phone message. The senator’s office did not return New America Media’s calls seeking comment on Li’s case.
“We’ve made over 1,000 calls,” said Daniel Tay, 21, a nursing student at City College who emigrated from Peru two years ago.
“We are trying to stop the deportation by calling the politicians’ offices,” said Kevin Shue, 20, a City College student, who has known Li since they were in high school.
“I’m glad so many people are trying to impact the decisions, but it’s frustrating to feel like the decision is out of our hands,” Shue added.
Li’s situation is somewhat unusual. Li was arrested with his mother, Maria, on Sept. 15 by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). He was born in Peru, where his parents, who are Chinese nationals, fled to from China. Li came to the United States with his parents on a tourist visa in 2002. After their visas expired, the family applied for political asylum to remain in the United States. However, their application was denied.
Li has not lived in Peru since he was 12 years old.
Maria, Li’s mother, was bailed out after a three-week detention while her son was transferred to an ICE detention center in Arizona. They have communicated only through sparse phone calls over the past few weeks. Li’s parents were released from Sacramento County Jail and are awaiting deportation to China.
Li would be deported to Peru because he was born there.
According to Li’s Asian American Studies professor Sang Chi, when asked directly about Li’s deportation case, ICE Director John Morton said “dreamers” are at the bottom of the priority list in terms of detainees.
“So why are they nabbing highly motivated students? Why has Steve been in jail for the past 60 days?” Chi asked.
The Board of Trustees for City College and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors denounced Li’s deportation and called on ICE to postpone his deportation. They also urged Congress to pass the DREAM Act, which, if passed, would grant undocumented immigrant children citizenship if they entered the country before age 15 and are attending college.
Over the past few weeks, students and Li’s peers have raced against the clock to mobilize a movement to halt his deportation.
More than 2,000 students at City College signed petition cards for Boxer and Feinstein to intervene on Li’s behalf. About 7,000 people have joined the Facebook group in solidarity with Li. Feinstein has authored private bills for undocumented students in the past.
Professor Chi says that students have done “a lot of the heavy lifting” to campaign for Li.
“Students of all colors and backgrounds have been here from the beginning,” he said.
Ike Iloka, 24, a mentor for the Summer Science Institute at San Francisco State University that Li participated in, said Li’s situation completely changed his viewpoint on immigration.
“I used to think undocumented immigrants were coming over the border and stealing our jobs, but I understand that there are people with families, friends, and communities here.”
On Nov. 19, Feinstein introduced a private bill to delay Li’s deportation. On Nov. 20, Li was freed. However, unless his bill passes, is reintroduced, or the Dream Act passes this month, Li’s stay in San Francisco is guaranteed for only 75 days after the end of this congressional session. ♦
Rupa Dev can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.