Shing Ma “Steve” Li, 20, was arrested at his San Francisco home on Sept. 15 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents after authorities discovered he was in the country illegally.
The arrest prompted an outcry and rallies were organized to urge federal authorities to allow Li, who was 12 when he came to the U.S., to stay in the country.
Li was born in Peru in 1990 after his parents fled their native China to avoid political persecution. He said his family never discussed with him his legal status in the U.S. and he did not know he was in the country illegally.
“I always thought that I had legal status. I never knew that I was undocumented,” Li said today, adding that his family had social security documents and paid taxes.
“When ICE came to my house that day, they asked me for my passport and I willingly gave it to them because I thought it was a mistake and everything would be solved the same day,” he said.
After Li had spent two months in an Arizona detention facility, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced a private bill that persuaded ICE to grant him a temporary stay while she worked toward a permanent solution.
Li was released from the detention center on Friday and took a Greyhound bus back to San Francisco.
Li and his mother spoke at a welcome-home gathering held at the Asian Law Caucus on Columbus Avenue this afternoon.
“There’s definitely a lot to be thankful for,” he said at the gathering. “I still have a lot of stuff to do ahead of me.”
Sin Yen Ling, an attorney at the Asian Law Caucus, said Li’s stay will be temporary and that Feinstein’s bill probably won’t make it through Congress.
“I’m very optimistic about Li staying in the country,” she said. “But I don’t think Senator Feinstein’s bill will pass because of the November election.”
Without the bill or other intervention, Li is in limbo, Ling said.
He doesn’t have a U.S. passport, driver’s license or social security card. The stay granted by ICE will remain in effect for 75 days after the end of the current session of Congress, according to ICE officials.
Gil Duran, a spokesman for Feinstein, said the private bill is a short-term solution until Congress votes on the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act.
“This is a temporary measure until we see whether the DREAM Act will be voted on in this Congress,” Duran said Friday.
The act would permit certain undocumented students who arrived in the country as minors, have graduated from a U.S. high school, and have completed at least two years of military service or study at a university to remain in the country.
Saul Sugarman, Bay City News