It seemed that all odds were against Steve “Shing Ma” Li, a City College of San Francisco student who has been incarcerated for more than two months, awaiting deportation to a country where he had no friends or family.
But Friday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials announced plans to release Li from a detention center in Florence, Ariz., where he has been in custody since Oct. 8. His destination is not Peru, his country of birth, but back home to San Francisco, where he is expected to arrive today.
“I was so happy to find out that he is coming home and hopefully be able to study, because in jail he told me that is all he wanted to do,” said his father, Xin Guang Li, 55. “But I’ll have to see him to believe it’s true.”
Li’s reversal of fortune came after U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., intervened. On Monday, Li was scheduled to fly out, but Friday, Feinstein introduced a private bill to stall the deportation process.
“I decided to introduce a private bill on Steve’s behalf because I believe his removal would be unjust before the Senate gets a chance to vote on the Dream Act,” Feinstein said in a statement.
Feinstein hopes for passage
The Dream Act, which failed to pass in Congress in September, would grant undocumented immigrant children citizenship if they entered the United States before age 15 and were attending college.
Feinstein said the act will be brought to the floor again in December, and she hopes Congress will pass it before the end of this year.
“This important legislation would allow youngsters such as Steve Li to continue making a contribution to the United States, the country that they grew up in and call home,” Feinstein said in the statement.
Private bills are often last resorts in immigration cases. Only a small fraction of them are approved, but simply introducing a bill puts a deportation on hold.
ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice attributed Li’s release to Feinstein’s bill. Kice said in a statement that “Mr. Li’s removal has been stayed, and the stay will remain in effect for 75 days after the end of the Congress.”
Li’s lawyer, Sin Yen Ling, said the 20-year-old nursing student will be on a supervised release program with ICE. She booked a Greyhound bus ticket for him Friday night because he does not have an ID and cannot board a plane.
“I proactively called (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and it just so happened that they informed me that they were going to release him,” Ling said Friday afternoon. “Otherwise, typically they just drop you off and say, ‘Good luck, and find a way home.’ ”
Student, Internet campaign
Li had the support of thousands of college students and Facebook members who lobbied Feinstein and other legislative leaders to intervene on his behalf.
“I really didn’t think we were going to get this far,” Ling said. “Obviously Sen. Feinstein’s bill really was the key to delaying and now stopping his deportation, but we wouldn’t be where we are now if it wasn’t for the community support.”
His case attracted attention because he says he no longer has ties in Peru. His parents were born in China but moved to the Latin American country in the 1980s to escape the government’s one-child policy. They brought Li to the United States when he was 11.
The three were arrested in San Francisco on Sept. 15 because they were allowed to stay in the United States only through 2002. Li’s parents were released and wear electronic ankle bracelets as they await deportation to China, but their son has spent the past six weeks in Arizona.
City College student Marilyn Luu, 21, was one of the many who worked to get her friend freed.
“It just makes me think of all the times when people have told me, ‘Yeah, you can try but it’s not going to work,’ ” Luu said. “But now it’s confirmed – nothing is impossible.”