Sen. Dianne Feinstein has asked immigration authorities to halt the deportation of City College of San Francisco nursing student Steve “Shing Ma” Li while she considers introducing a bill that would allow him to stay in the United States temporarily, her office said Sunday.
The California Democrat‘s effort came as Li’s attorney said his removal flight to Peru would no longer happen today, as initially planned. The lawyer, Sin Yen Ling, said the immigration officer that told her of the change of plans did not give her any more details.
“Why? I don’t know,” said Ling, whose client is at a detention center in Florence, Ariz. “They wouldn’t provide me with additional information, but I do think it has a lot to do with the advocacy work that’s been happening.”
In a phone interview late Sunday, Li said, “It’s a miracle. Not a big one, but it’s still something, and every day that I’m here means I have a chance to not get deported and stay in San Francisco.”
Li’s case has attracted attention because the 20-year-old says he has no real connection to Peru, nor relatives or friends there. His parents were born in China but moved to Peru in the 1980s to escape the government’s one-child policy. They brought Li to the United States at age 11.
The three were arrested in San Francisco Sept. 15 because they were only allowed to stay in the United States through the end of 2002. Li’s parents were released and wear electronic ankle bracelets as they await deportation to China.
Many of Li’s supporters, who include thousands of college students and visitors to his Facebook page, rallied outside Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer‘s office in San Francisco on Friday, trying to get her to intervene. Supporters have also engaged in letter-writing campaigns targeting Boxer, Feinstein and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco.
Dream Act supporter
Feinstein’s office noted her support for the Dream Act, which if passed would grant undocumented immigrant children citizenship if they entered the United States before age 15 and were attending college. In a statement Sunday, Feinstein said it would be unjust to deport Li before the bill can be voted on.
“I have asked ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to halt the deportation proceedings while I consider introducing a private bill that will allow Mr. Li to remain in the United States on a temporary basis,” Feinstein said.
Private bills are often last resorts in immigration cases. Only a small fraction of them are successfully passed by Congress. However, merely introducing a bill could put Li’s deportation on hold, Ling said.
After meeting with Li’s attorney and mother Friday, Boxer’s staff reiterated her support for the Dream Act. Boxer does not introduce private bills, a spokesman said.
A spokesman for Pelosi, Drew Hammill, said she believes Li’s case “is a textbook example of the pressing need for comprehensive immigration reform and passage of the Dream Act,” and is “working with other members (of Congress) to recommend that ICE grant deferred action.”
Ling asked for a deferral of Li’s deportation after his arrest, but said she received a fax from Immigration and Customs Enforcement Friday denying the request. The decision was made in Arizona and could be reversed by ICE Director John Morton.
“The reality is ICE is as bureaucratic as any other federal agency,” Ling said. “So it’s just a matter of getting John Morton’s attention to say look, the Arizona office denied deferred action and there’s something wrong with the decision, and do something about it.”
Virginia Kice, an ICE spokeswoman, said in an e-mail Sunday that the agency never confirms the timing of a removal in advance but that Li “remains in ICE custody while the agency seeks to make arrangements for his removal.”
Friend has hope
One of Li’s friends from City College, 20-year-old Christian Hip, said he was hopeful after learning Li will not be deported today.
“It means we get to do something at least for one more day,” he said.
But Hip, who is also of Chinese descent but was born in the United States, is preparing for the worst. After finding out through Facebook that Li could be deported, he contacted his parents in Lima, Peru. The country has a large population of immigrants from China.
“My parents have additional rooms and they’re retired, so they have time to pick him up and take care of him,” he said. “It makes me feel relieved that he may have a hand even though I’m not there with him.”