Student Elizabeth Lee faces deportation - mom held
Elizabeth Lee was about to graduate from Lowell High School in San Francisco last May and was making plans for her first semester at UC Berkeley when disaster struck: Her mother was arrested.
It wasn’t the first time that Melissa Lee, an undocumented immigrant, had been caught by immigration authorities. But this arrest hit her children too, and overnight, Elizabeth went from anticipating her first days in college to facing deportation to Peru, where she was born.
The family was set to be deported on Jan. 19. They learned on Thursday that they had been granted an extension, and they will report to Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in July.
"I hope this will be a step forward toward better times for us," said a soft-spoken Elizabeth Lee, 18, standing on the steps of the Mission Dolores Basilica, the church her family has attended since she came to San Francisco at age 9. “Everything is stacked against you when you’re undocumented. I feel very grateful and happy today.”
The Lee case is the second high-profile example of Bay Area college students threatened with deportation after spending most of their youth in the United States as an illegal immigrant.
Last year, 20-year-old Steve Li spent two months at a detention center in Arizona and was about to be deported to Peru until he was granted a temporary stay. Like Lee, he had been brought to the United States as a child, and he did not know he was undocumented until he and his parents were arrested last September.
If the Dream Act had passed Congress last month, the cases of both Li and Lee would have been easy to resolve, lawyers said. The legislation, cosponsored by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, would have granted undocumented immigrants citizenship if they entered the United States before age 15 and were attending college. But it died in the Senate.
"We were hopeful we would get more time for them, and we did," said Jaclyn Shull-Gonzalez, a lawyer with Dolores Street Community Services who is representing the Lee family. “If the Dream Act had happened, we wouldn’t even need to do this. They have a very good case.”
It was the day before her 14th birthday in 2006 when Lee learned that she was living in the United States illegally. Her mother was arrested by immigration authorities while Lee and her brother, Felix, were at school. Lee was sent to live with a foster family for a week - she celebrated her birthday with strangers - before being reunited with her mother and brother.
The three of them fought to stay in the United States by filing a plea for asylum. But the asylum case was denied in 2008, and two years later, Melissa Lee was arrested a second time.
"It has been like a roller coaster. Some days are better than others," said Elizabeth Lee, who is taking classes at San Francisco City College while she awaits the outcome of her case. “I put so much effort into school as a distraction from my problems. I wanted to be someone.”
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