How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

A last-minute reprieve for student Steve Li

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A photo of Steve Li, from a Facebook page set up by friends

San Francisco college student Steve Li will not be boarding a plane for Peru today as planned, his deportation stalled following a last-minute reprieve.

Late yesterday afternoon, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that while the 20-year-old Chinese-American nursing student remains in custody at an immigrant detention center in Arizona, his Monday deportation to Peru was put off. Li's attorney Sin Yen Ling told the Chronicle that an immigration officer advised her of the change, but did not provide her with details as to why or what happens next.

From the story:

"Why? I don't know," said Ling, whose client is at a detention center in Florence, Ariz. "In terms of when he's going to be put on a plane, I don't know that either. They wouldn't provide me with additional information but I do think it has a lot to do with the advocacy work that's been happening."

Just Friday, a San Francisco Bay Guardian headline read: "Only a miracle can save Steve Li now." The last-minute miracle might have to do with a fierce campaign put on by Li's supporters to put pressure on legislators and the intervention of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who according to the Chronicle has asked immigration officials to suspend his deportation while she introduces a bill that would allow him to stay temporarily. The Democratic senator is a supporter of the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act, known as the DREAM Act, proposed legislation that would allow a path to legal status for undocumented students like Li.

Li's story has drawn national attenion because of its unusual nature: He was born to Chinese immigrant parents in Peru, where they lived temporarily before bringing their son to the United States as a child. The family arrived on visitor visas and applied for political asylum, but lost their bid several years ago and were ordered deported. Li's parents reportedly never told him that he remained in United States illegally.

Li, a student at City College of San Francisco, was arrested in his home by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in September. His parents, who were also arrested but have been released on electronic monitoring, could deported to China if their native country agrees to take them back. But since Li was born in Peru, he is considered to be a Peruvian national and would be sent there on his own.

Another vote on the DREAM Act, voted down as part of a failed Senate defense bill in September, is expected in the near future.

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