When Steve “Shing Ma” Li saw he had a message waiting from his lawyer Thursday evening, he was hoping for good news.
The 20-year-old San Francisco City College student has kept in touch daily with his lawyer and mother since he was taken to a detention center in Florence, Ariz. He knew that they, along with thousands of others, had been advocating against his deportation to Peru.
But his lawyer’s voice gave it away. He wouldn’t be getting the news he’d wanted.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Li said of the phone call with his lawyer Sin Yen Ling. “She told me I might be getting deported on Monday.”
Ling heard Wednesday that a plane ticket to Peru had been booked for Li.
“I’m afraid to believe it; I don’t believe it,” Li’s mother, Li Maria Ma, 50, said, dabbing her eyes and blowing her nose through a stack of paper towels Thursday afternoon. “There are so many people that did so much to help Steve stay in San Francisco, his home.”
Li’s family was arrested Sept. 15 because they were allowed to stay in the United States only through the end of 2002, and his family’s case for political asylum was denied. His parents, who were born in China, were released from custody and are being electronically monitored by immigration officials.
For Li, returning to Peru, where he was born, means entering a land of nothing – he has no friends or family there. His parents fled China in the 1980s to escape that country’s one-child policy. They decided to leave Peru in 2002 because of political instability.
Li’s story and fight to stay in the United States to continue studying nursing, grabbed the attention of thousands, from Facebook users to students at City College, San Francisco State University and UCLA. They have written letters and organized call-ins to California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors and the Board of Education adopted resolutions denouncing Li’s deportation and supporting the DREAM Act, which if passed, would grant undocumented immigrant children citizenship if they entered the United States before age 15 and are attending a two- or four-year college.
Li’s family knows little about his pending deportation, and Virginia Kice, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman said, “For security reasons, ICE never discusses the timing of removal and will only confirm the action after it is completed.”
Li’s supporters have yet to get any legislative intervention.
Feinstein’s spokesman Gil Duran declined to comment.
Boxer’s spokesman Zachary Coile said the office does not introduce private bills in immigration cases but does provide help to thousands of families who need assistance with immigration matters, including help in contacting federal immigration officials.
Ling said she has never heard of Boxer issuing a private bill to help individuals like Li, “but there’s always a first.”
“She’s sort of our last hope at this point,” Ling said.
Supporters haven’t given up hope either.
They are staging a “study-in” today from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in front of Boxer’s San Francisco office, asking people to dress in scrubs, graduation robes or caps. The last-ditch effort involves sending letters and petitions into the office every 30 minutes.
“I was kind of discouraged to see that nothing has changed,” said Kevin Shue, a 20-year-old City College student who has known Li since their junior year at George Washington High School. “But at the same time, we can still fight within the means of the law for him.”
Thousands of people have already written letters to Boxer and Feinstein, but Li said he plans to write to them himself.
“I can’t believe that it’s happening to me, that my life might change forever on Monday if I get deported,” he said. “I had goals and dreams here. I’m hoping for a miracle.”