We, the concerned members of UC Berkeley’s Asian American student community, condemn the isolation, detention and potential deportation of City College of San Francisco student Steve Li and urge elected officials to amend this injustice.
On September 15, 2010, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials apprehended Steve Li, a 20 year-old nursing student at City College. Li, who was born in Peru, is currently being held alone in Arizona and awaiting deportation to his birth country. His parents were since released and are awaiting potential deportation to China; however, ICE officials have neglected to explicate why Li was separated from his family. Li’s story is simply one of the expected 400,000 deportations that will be occurring this fiscal year, almost 10 percent over the Bush administration’s 2008 total.
While it is legally correct that the Li family broke the law in illicitly staying in San Francisco, their story illustrates that the law itself is inherently broken. Until his arrest, Li was unaware of his illegal status and simply attempting to live the tale of hard work and perseverance indoctrinated into every American. Li’s family did in fact previously attempt to gain documentation, but their petition for political asylum was denied in 2003 and in 2004. This case is a testament to the fractured immigration system that, on a quotidian basis, deals out inhumane treatment to a racialized underclass–including the prized “model minority” of stratified American society.
As Asian Americans and students at Berkeley, however, we do not aim to advocate for Li because he is a disempowered individual. Our outrage is predicated by the fact that Li is a student just like us and could have been anyone in our communities. According to a report by the University of California Office of the President, Asian/Pacific Islander students constitute 40-44% of undocumented students in the UC system. For obvious reasons, undocumented students of any race typically do not put their illegal statuses up for exhibition. Though we may not know who among our friends and classmates are next, we do know that unjust institutional factors constantly threaten members of our community whose struggles are most invisible.
It is imperative to recognize that Li’s case is not a historical juggernaut for our community. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act barred the immigration of Chinese nationals to the U.S., emerging as the first conspicuously racist exclusive immigration law in this nation’s history. The California Alien Land Act of 1913 prohibited Asians already in the country (referred to as “aliens ineligible for citizenship”) from owning property. Given that the first anti-immigrant laws targeted Asian Americans over a century ago and that we are about to deport an Asian American for a crime he didn’t even realize he committed, it is blatantly incorrect to say that we have learned from our past and that our history of facing discrimination is over. It is for this reason that we denounce the detention of Steve Li and urge elected officials to stand up against it, for our communities, and for our future.
[APAC] Asian Pacific American Coalition
[hb] hardboiled asian/pacific american newsmagazine
[PASS] Pilipino Academic Student Services
[REACH!] Asian/Pacific Islander Recruitment/Retention Center
[SASC] Southeast Asian Student Coalition
and in solidarity,
Columbia University Asian American Alliance
For more recent information about Steve Li’s case: http://newamericamedia.org/2010/11/students-race-to-save-peer-who-faces-deportation-to-peru.php