San Francisco City Hall honors immigrant youths

Getty Images File PhotoAction: U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein

Two years ago, a nursing student was arrested at his San Francisco home and faced deportation because of his status as an undocumented immigrant. On Wednesday, that young man, Shing Ma “Steve” Li, was among several students who were honored at City Hall for completing a national summer internship program for undocumented youths.

“Dream Summer” is an internship program for youths eligible for the proposed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or the DREAM Act. The internship gave about 150 students the opportunity to work this summer at social justice and labor organizations around the U.S.

While the DREAM Act stalled in Congress, the students are now eligible for work permits under deferred deportation, an executive order signed by President Barack Obama earlier this year that allows youths who meet certain age and educational requirements to stay in the country.

The internship program, in its second year, gives the students opportunities to do many things some people take for granted, said Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center, which helped develop the program.

“This is the first opportunity for many of them to take a plane ride” or use their education in an internship environment, Wong said.

The program, combined with the president’s executive order, is allowing some of the youths to get full-time jobs now that the internships are completed, he said.

Li, who moved to the U.S. with his family when he was 12, was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in September 2010 and spent two months in an Arizona detention facility. He was eventually released with the help of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., after an outcry and several rallies by advocates for immigrants.

Li said the internship and the executive order are “a huge, huge step forward.”

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