SAN FRANCISCO -- Sen. Dianne Feinstein has joined House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in calling for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to halt the deportation of Steve Li, the 20-year-old student at City College of San Francisco who feared he would be flown back to Peru this week.
The intervention from the two high-powered Bay Area politicians may halt Li's deportation, though advocates said Sunday night it is too early to know for sure.
In a written statement Sunday, Feinstein said she has asked immigration officials to "halt the deportation proceedings while I consider introducing a private bill that will allow Mr. Li to remain in the United States on a temporary basis."
It was a sharp turn of events from two days earlier, when federal immigration officials in Arizona, where Li is being detained, faxed a latter to say they were denying a request by Li's lawyer to temporarily suspend the deportation.
The lawyer, Sin Yen Ling, had hoped to delay the deportation proceedings while Congress considers a bill that would offer a path to citizenship to undocumented students such as Li.
Feinstein said Li's situation was a prime example of why Congress must pass the DREAM Act. The legislation would give conditional green cards to young people if they were brought to the United States illegally at a young age, graduated from high school and enroll in college or military service.
"It is my hope that Congress will take action on this
Pelosi's office has also called Li a "textbook example" of the need for the DREAM Act. A spokesman said late Friday that the House leader was working with other members of Congress to recommend that immigration officials defer Li's deportation.
Li's parents were born in China but moved in the 1980s to Peru, where their son was born. The parents brought him to the United States from Peru on tourists visas when he was 12 years old. They applied for political asylum, but a judge rejected their claim. Li has said he grew up unaware of the legal complications his family faced.
Immigration agents arrested the family on Sept. 15, and have sought to deport him to Peru and his parents to China. Because he left Peru so long ago, Li said he has no family or friends there. He attended middle and high school in San Francisco and wished to become a nurse.
"By all accounts, Steve Li is a bright young man who was brought to this country illegally as a child through no fault of his own," Feinstein wrote. "He was pursuing his education and planning a career in the medical profession until his arrest and detention."
Advocates were hopeful that Feinstein's pledge to introduce a private bill would make the difference, but were still not sure about the impact it would have, since federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials based in Arizona had already made the decision Friday to go ahead with the deportation.
"The national ICE (office) can always reverse that decision, but it's not a guarantee. We're very cautious about all the rumors," said Lisa Chen of the Asian Law Caucus, the organization representing Li.
Private immigration bills are rarely passed, but the mere introduction of one can cause immigration agents to reconsider a pending deportation.
"We haven't got an official confirmation," Chen said of Feinstein's actions to halt the deportation. "We'll know the details (Monday)."