A San Francisco teen who was scheduled to be deported later this month received an Epiphany gift Thursday: a six-month reprieve that will give her lawyers time to build a case for her to stay in the country legally.
Elizabeth Lee, 18, came to the U.S. from Peru with her mother Melissa and brother Felix, 16, in 2000.
She graduated from Lowell High School in San Francisco in June and was accepted to attend the University of California at Berkeley last fall, but U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials detained Melissa Lee in June. She was released, but officials said the family would be deported to Peru on Jan. 19.
A rally was held Thursday at Mission Delores Church in support of Elizabeth Lee, and that morning, organizers found out she has been given another six months in the country to prepare her immigration case.
Thursday was Epiphany, the last of the 12 days of Christmas in the Catholic faith. Also known as Three Kings Day, it commemorates the arrival of the three wise men in the nativity story.
Rally spokesman Eric Quezada called the reprieve an Epiphany gift.
“That made it special as well,” he said. “That was the theme of the day. We were hoping for a gift in honor of the Epiphany.”
Quezada said the reprieve was granted on humanitarian grounds and is likely related to the strength of Lee’s legal case.
“We believe she has a strong case to be able to remain in the country lawfully,” he said. “This will allow her to reopen the case so new evidence can be put forward.”
Quezada declined to discuss the legal strategy for keeping her in the U.S., but said Elizabeth and her family are talented and hard working.
“Instead of being able to attend college this past fall, Elizabeth has to face this,” he said.
She speaks very little Spanish, he added.
Shing Ma “Steve” Li, a San Francisco nursing student who recently faced similar deportation proceedings, was scheduled to attend Lee’s rally.
Li, 20, also from Peru, was arrested in his San Francisco home on Sept. 15 after federal authorities learned that he was in the country illegally. He had been in the U.S. since he was 12 and didn’t know he was breaking the law.
“I always thought that I had legal status. I never knew that I was undocumented,” Li said in an earlier interview.
After Li 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 works toward a permanent solution.
“We’re hoping this doesn’t have to go to Feinstein intervening for Elizabeth,” Quezada said today.
Both Lee and Li would have likely qualified for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM, Act.
The law would permit certain undocumented students who arrived in the country as minors, graduate from a U.S. high school, and complete at least two years of military service or study at a university to remain in the country.
The act failed to pass the Senate in December, but Lee’s supporters hope to push for some kind of freeze on the deportation of DREAM Act-eligible minors, Quezada said.
“These cases are just a small fraction of what our communities are facing across the country,” he said.
ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice was not immediately available for comment.