Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

A Chinese-American student's pending deportation to Peru

Steve Li in a photo from a Facebook page set up by friends
Steve Li in a photo from a Facebook page set up by friends

A story that has been making the rounds in recent days is that of Steve Li, a 20-year-old Chinese-American college student from San Francisco who is being held in an Arizona immigrant detention center awaiting his imminent deportation to Peru.

The destination seems baffling at first. Here's the backstory: Li's parents left China for Peru before he was born. He was born in Peru and lived there as a child until his parents left for the United States, fed up with political instability there. They applied for asylum here but their application was denied. At the time they arrived in the United States, Li was 12 years old.

While deportation cases involving American-raised young people are sadly common, Li's case is unusual in that his parents, who were temporarily detained then released on electronic monitoring, would be deported to China permitting their native country takes them back. But because they had their child in Peru, where Li has no friends or family, he is considered a Peruvian national.

According to one of several stories in the San Francisco Chronicle, Li did not know that that his family was issued an order of deportation six years ago, after losing their asylum bid. The San Francisco board of supervisors recently adopted a resolution banning his deportation, but Li could be sent to Peru as soon as Monday.

Here is what some bloggers and others have been saying online:

From ColorLines, which today pointed out that Li's arrest by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in September took place shortly before the defeat of a Senate defense bill that carried the DREAM Act, legislation that would create a path to legal status for students like Li:

The very same week that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced he would attempt to add the DREAM Act as an amendment to the defense authorization bill, Immigration and Customs Enforcement was readying itself to take a DREAM Act-eligible youth into custody for deportation.

Days later, while the Senate preened and postured in D.C. over a failed move to pass the DREAM Act in September, a family on the other side of the country was being torn apart.

Angry Asian Man's Phil Yu had a post on Li's case last week. He wrote:
Steve has built a life here in the United States. He has no family or friends in Peru, and if deported, he would essentially be homeless upon arrival.

On a Tumblr page, Jasmined wrote:
Isn’t this the type of person we should be keeping in the U.S. and not treating like a criminal?

Li was studying nursing at City College of San Francisco and wanted to open a medical clinic serving the immigrant community, according to one of the stories in the Chronicle.

The same story points out that it was because Li's parents tried to adjust their status by applying for asylum, rather than simply overstaying their visas illegally and remaining in the shadows, that they got on the federal government's radar in the first place. The story quotes Li's lawyer, Sin Yen Ling: "Once you put in an application you're putting yourself on (ICE's) radar screen."

Meanwhile, the DREAM Act seems to be headed for another vote.