At the news that Elizabeth Lee would not be deported in two weeks, the press conference held on the steps of Mission Dolores Basilica turned into a celebration, albeit an uneasy one.
Lee had planned to go to Berkeley to study economics and sociology. Her acceptance letter arrived this past April, a few months before she was set to graduate from Lowell High School. A month later, she and her family were arrested by immigration officials.
Lee, her mother, Melissa, and her brother, Felix, were scheduled to be deported to Peru, the country that Lee was born in but had left at the age of nine. Lee declined enrollment at Berkeley and waited to be deported. Then her family was granted a deportation stay of a few months, for humanitarian reasons. Lee enrolled in San Francisco’s City College.
Dolores Street Community Services helped the Lees find an attorney. After the well-publicized almost-deportation of City College nursing student Steve Li, the deportation of another San Franciscan to a country she barely knew attracted more attention than it typically would have.
Today, a few hours before a press conference on Lee’s behalf was scheduled to be held on the steps of the Mission Dolores Basilica, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) withdrew the Lees’ deportation order for January 19. The family could stay — for another six months.
Steve Li was at the press conference, courtesy of the private bill by Dianne Feinstein that keeps him in the country for another year. “Since the DREAM Act didn’t pass, I’m still in limbo status,” said Li. “Anything can happen to me, so I’m just out here doing anything I can to help not only myself, but all the undocumented students who are out there.”
Li spent most of September and October in a detention center in Florence, Arizona. ICE had transported him there, but refused to send him back to San Francisco. Instead, his parents, who ICE still has in electronic monitoring bracelets, bought him an overnight Greyhound bus ticket home. He is, he said, trying to get his life back to normal.
Also at the press conference was Supervisor David Campos, who didn’t acquire legal status until he was a law student at Harvard. “Why wouldn’t this country want the talent, the intelligence that Elizabeth brings?” he asked. “Why would this country invest in a public education system, give these kids a public education and then pull the rug from under them and keep them from actually contributing to the society that they are now a part of?”
Standing near Campos on the steps of the basilica were three men dressed as the Three Wise Men, or the Magi — the day, as it turned out, was also Epiphany.
The Three Wise Men set out on their difficult journey to bring gifts to Jesus, explained Emmanuelle Leal, one of the Magi. The Lees, said Leal, bring gifts to their community and country, and want the chance to continue giving back.
“It is a story that tells us we have to persevere,” said Campos of the Magi. “It takes people like the Lee family coming forward with their stories to touch the hearts of other people. Thank you, Lee family, for your courage.”
“Today, every one of us is here is a Magi,” said Father Richard Smith from Mission’s Episcopal Church of St. John. “Like the Magi, we encounter government leaders who are indifferent and cruel. We keep our eyes on that distant bright, shining star. We keep walking.”