DREAMer Elizabeth Lee Wins Six More Months In U.S.

The 18-year-old from San Francisco wins temporary reprieve in her fight to stay in the U.S.

By Julianne Hing Jan 07, 2011

Elizabeth Lee is your stereotypical San Francisco Chinese American kid. She’s got long black hair, which she wears it in a straight center part. The 18-year-old went to Lowell High School, widely considered to be the city’s best public high school and graduated with a 3.75 GPA and then was accepted to the University of California, Berkeley, which she was all set to start this past fall.

Except she, her brother Felix and their mom Melissa are all undocumented, and she never got to college. Their lives were upended when Melissa Lee was detained by immigration officials last June after their family was denied an asylum request. Their deportation date for Peru was set for January 19, but this week after a concerted community effort to keep their family in the country ICE granted their family a six-month reprieve. They must report to immigration officials again in June.

Both Elizabeth Lee and her 16-year-old brother would be eligible for the DREAM Act, according to their attorneys, which would have allowed hundreds of thousands of undocumented youth who have a clean criminal record and commit at least two years to the military or higher education conditional legal status in the country. If passed, undocumented youth would eventually be eligible for citizenship after clearing a host of hurdles and waiting thirteen years.

"I hope this will be a step forward toward better times for us," Elizabeth Lee said at a press conference on Thursday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. "Everything is stacked against you when you’re undocumented. I feel very grateful and happy today."

"We were hopeful we would get more time for them, and we did," said Lee family attorney Jaclyn Shull-Gonzalez, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. "If the Dream Act had happened, we wouldn’t even need to do this. They have a very good case."

Lee’s story highlights a new dilemma for the Obama administration. Obama sent out cabinet member after cabinet member to stump for the DREAM Act last year, praising its benefits for the nation’s labor, education, military, commerce, immigration enforcement, even agriculture priorities. It passed the House but failed a Senate cloture vote on December 18.

Yet, even then, the Obama administration said it would not stop deporting would-be DREAMers in the event of the bill’s failure.

"Were the DREAM Act not to pass we would handle the situation as we do now," Morton said the day before the DREAM Act failed a Senate cloture vote, "which is: enforce the law, focusing on our priorities and act on individual cases on a case by case basis."

While the immigration rights advocates continue to fight for some kind of legalization bill, the fight to keep undocumented youth in the country will continue exactly as Morton says: on an individual basis. When DREAMers’ impending deportations have been challenged publicly, ICE has often granted temporary reprieves.

Undocumented parents, an apparently much less sympathetic group, have been shown much less compassion. Absent the DREAM Act, the question for undocumented youth will be, who can get to them first? A community of supporters who can rally to keep them in the country or ICE, who spirit undocumented immigrants out of the country at a record-breaking rate.