Nearly deported nursing student gets tearful welcome

Friends and loved ones of a City College of San Francisco nursing student celebrated his return from an Arizona detention facility Nov. 23.

Shing Ma “Steve” Li, 20, was arrested at his San Francisco home on Sept. 15 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents after authorities discovered he was in the country illegally.

The arrest prompted an outcry and rallies were organized to urge federal authorities to allow Li, who was 12 when he came to the U.S., to stay in the country.

Li was born in Peru in 1990 after his parents fled their native China to avoid political persecution. He said his family never discussed with him his legal status in the U.S. and he did not know he was in the country illegally.

“I always thought that I had legal status. I never knew that I was undocumented,” Li said, adding that his family had social security documents and paid taxes.

“When ICE came to my house that day, they asked me for my passport and I willingly gave it to them because I thought it was a mistake and everything would be solved the same day,” he said.

After Li had 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 worked toward a permanent solution.

Li was released from the detention center on Nov.20 and took a Greyhound bus back to San Francisco.

Li and his mother spoke at a welcome-home gathering held at the Asian Law Caucus on Columbus Avenue Nov. 23.

“There’s definitely a lot to be thankful for,” he said at the gathering. “I still have a lot of stuff to do ahead of me.”