Only a miracle can save Steve Li now

Pub date November 12, 2010
WriterSarah Phelan
SectionPolitics Blog

Supporters of Shing Ma “Steve” Li, a 20-year-old nursing student, gathered outside the offices of Sen. Barbara Boxer today to urge her to sponsor a private bill in a last ditch effort to halt Li’s deportation to Peru, which is scheduled to take place Monday, November 15—two months after ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents arrested Li in San Francisco.

“While we do not introduce private bills, our staff is happy to meet with Mr. Li’s family and his attorneys to discuss his case,” Boxer spokesperson Zachary Coile emailed the Guardian, as protesters delivered stack of letters to Boxer’s office, asking that she intervene in Li’s case.

Unlike Sen. Dianne Feinstein who has sponsored private bills in the past, Boxer has no record of intervening in this way. But advocates were hopeful that now that she has survived the November 2010 election, Boxer will pull off a miracle before Monday.

This afternoon, Li’s attorney Sin Yen Ling texted the Guardian that her request for deferred action had been denied, meaning that Li will be on a plane to Peru on Monday, baring some last minute miracle.

“Our office has been in touch with ICE and is exploring the options,” Gil Duran, media spokesperson for Sen. Dianne Feinstein told the Guardian, half an hour after Li’s request for deferred action was denied.

And Boxer spokesperson Zachary Coile said the senator’s staff met with Li’s mother, his attorney, his City College professor and others, this afternoon.

“While we do not introduce private bills, our staff was happy to meet with Steve Li’s family and his attorney to discuss his case,” Coile stated. “We reiterated Senator Boxer’s strong support for the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for tens of thousands of undocumented students who go to college or serve in the military. Senator Boxer will keep working in the Senate until it becomes law.”

And tonight, Drew Hammill, press secretary to Speaker Nancy Pelosi emailed the following statement to the Guardian:

“Speaker Pelosi believes that Steve Li’s case is a textbook example of the pressing need for comprehensive immigration reform and passage of the DREAM Act. Speaker Pelosi is working with other Members to recommend that ICE grant deferred action in this case.”

Boxer, Feinstein and Pelosi, who have both been strong supporters of the DREAM Act, have vowed to keep working until it is passed.

Earlier this fall, on Sept. 14—the day before ICE arrested Li– Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced plans to add the DREAM Act as an amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill.

But that effort was blocked by Senate Republicans. And after the bloodbath that congressional Democrats endured this November, it’s unclear if the DREAM Act has a prayer, though Nancy Pelosi vowed to move it forward during Congress’ upcoming lame-duck session, and it has continued to attract bi-partisan support since it was first introduced in 2001 by Senators Richard Durbin (D-Il) and Richard Lugar (R-IN).

At today’s protest, Li’s legal counsel, Sin Yen Ling, decried the federal government’s decision to deport her client.

“A 20-year-old City College student is not a threat to our national security,” Ling said. “We need to bring Steve Li home as soon as possible.”

According to Ling, Li has not seen his mother Maria, who divorced Li’s dad for years and lives with Li in San Francisco, since his Sept. 15 arrest, when  ICE picked up Li and his mother in Ingleside on Sept. 15 and placed them in separate cars. The car carrying Li then picked up Li’s  father in the Richmond, and all three family members were processed at ICE’s Sansome Street office in downtown San Francisco, before being transferred to Sacramento County Jail. But Li was then involuntarily transferred to an ICE detention facility in Arizona. Meanwhile, Li’s parents were released from detention when ICE determined that China does not want them back because they left China seeking political asylum. But they are now required to wear cumbersome electronic monitoring anklets, because they are deemed a flight risk, and are not allowed to leave San Francisco.

As a result, Li’s parents have been unable to visit their son in Arizona. And should he be deported to Peru, it’s not clear if they will be permitted to follow. And should if they decide to travel to Peru, they will not be allowed to reenter the U.S. for at least ten years, further complicating a complex situation.

At today’s rally, Li’s mother Maria spoke in public for the first time,  breaking down into tears, as she begged Sen. Boxer and the U.S. government to help.

“He has no money, no clean clothes, how will he get by?” she asked, referring to ICE’s plan to put her son on a plane to Lima, Peru, where he reportedly knows no one.  “Sen. Boxer, will you just watch and pretend you didn’t see anything? Today, when you see all of us standing here begging you, will you respond to us? I hope you can understand it from a mother’s perspective and meet with me to discuss how we can help Steve.”

Ling said Li’s mother decided to speak because of the direness of her son’s situation, even though she was wearing a federally-mandated monitoring anklet.
“She felt it was now or never,” Ling said.

Li’s teacher Sang Chi also spoke, praising Li as a model student and a prime example of the kind of person that should be eligible for the DREAM Act. And then the Rev. Norman Fang led Li’s supporters in a prayer.

‘We ask that a miracle take place and that Steve’s mom and San Francisco can be happy again, that the heart and soul of what is morally right can overcome regulations,” Fang said, noting that 100 years, his family members were detained at Angel Island “for no other reason than they were Chinese. ‘There is only one border in our world—the one that separates Heaven and Earth.”

Li’s attorney Sin Yen Ling clarified that she doesn’t believe that ICE singled Li out.
“He’s just been swept up as part of a larger program,” Ling said, noting that actions that split families apart and target folks who came to this country as undocumented children have inspired a movement of DREAMers—folks who support the DREAM Act.

Every year, about 65,000 U.S. raised students, who would qualify for the DREAM Act’s proposed benefits, graduate from high school, according to the National Immigration Law Center (NILC).

“These include honor roll students, star athletes, talented artists, homecoming queens, and aspiring teachers, doctors and U.S. soldiers,” states a NILC press release. “They are young people who have lived in the U.S. for most of their lives and desire only to call this country their home. Even though they were brought to the U.S. years ago as children, they face unique barriers to higher education, are unable to work legally in the U.S. and often live in constant fear of detection by immigration authorities.”

Asked how ICE caught up with Li, who does not have a criminal record, Ling pointed to modern technology
“In this day and age, you can track anyone down,” Ling said.” And it’s a priority for ICE to identify people with final deportation orders,” she continued. Ling was referring to the fact that Li’s parents were denied their request for political asylum from China and issued a removal order, unbeknownst to their son Steve, who was born in Peru, came to the U.S. when he was 12 and was 14, when his parents’ asylum request was denied.

But Ling did not blame President Barack Obama, who promised to bring millions of undocumented residents out of the shadows, when he was running for president in 2008.
“It’s tough to criticize the president when he had five different priorities coming into office, including healthcare. His administration probably miscalculated how long it would take to pass healthcare. And part of the problem is partisan politics around immigration.”

Ling estimates that there are two million young people currently in the U.S. who would benefit from the passage of the DREAM Act, but blamed partisan politics for why the legislation failed to pass by only 3 votes in the Senate in September.

Sup. David Campos showed up at the rally and told Li’s supporters that the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution Nov. 9 calling for ICE to defer Li’s deportation.

“The Board is not always on the same page, but on this issue we were unanimous,” Campos said. “We get it, we understand the tragedy that this deportation would result in. And we remain hopeful that something will happen. There are millions of young people in the same predicament, and the solution is not deportation. The solution is passing comprehensive immigration reform. Until then, we need an intervention.”

Meanwhile, somewhere in Arizona, Steve Li sits in a jail cell, hoping, praying and dreaming…