Two years ago, a nursing student was arrested at his San Francisco home and faced deportation because of his status as an undocumented immigrant.
Wednesday that young man, Shing Ma “Steve” Li, was among several students celebrated at City Hall for completing a national summer internship program for undocumented youth.
“Dream Summer,” an internship program for youth eligible for the proposed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, gave about 150 students the opportunity to work this summer at social justice and labor organizations around the U.S.
While the DREAM Act stalled in Congress, the students are now eligible for work permits under deferred deportation, an executive order signed by President Barack Obama earlier this year that allows youth who meet certain age and educational requirements to stay in the country.
The internship program, in its second year, gives the students opportunities to do many things that some people take for granted, said Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center that helped develop the program.
“This is the first opportunity for many of them to take a plane ride” or use their education in an internship environment, Wong said.
The program, combined with the president’s executive order, is allowing some of them to get full-time jobs now that the internships are completed, he said.
Li, who moved to the U.S. with his family when he was 12, was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in September 2010 and spent two months in an Arizona detention facility. He was eventually released with the help of Sen. Dianne Feinstein after an outcry and several rallies by immigrant advocates.
He said today that the internship and the executive order are “a huge, huge step forward.”
Li worked this summer for San Francisco-based Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy and is now headed to University of California at Davis later this month to major in Asian American studies and biology.
He said in his internship, “I really learned more about funding and how to approach funders” of philanthropy, and that the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities often are underserved by nonprofits.
Li and the other students were lauded by several city officials, including Board of Supervisors President David Chiu.
“You are going to be our community leaders … who will make sure future generations don’t have to deal with the injustices you have to deal with,” Chiu said.
He said San Francisco stands behind its undocumented youth–Paul Henderson from the mayor’s office added that some of the students in the program will also be offered internships with the city.
“We understand the plights of those of you who have to live in the shadows,” Chiu said.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News