October 16, 2017 07:41 PM
A shift in U.S. immigration policy to include deporting people without criminal records has resulted in a deportation order for a Minnesota naturopathic doctor who has spent the past 18 years in the state, and, according to her patients, saved lives.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents said they will enforce Dr. Guan Lee's deportation order from September of 2011. She's scheduled to leave Monday.
Court documents show the order was initially withdrawn because Lee had asked for a motion to reopen the case. That action stops any deportation by ICE for 30 days.
Lee appealed her case. Ultimately ICE determined she had exhausted all appeals and said the agency plans to follow the law and exercise the deportation order on Oct. 16.
Lee's journey through U.S immigration is documented in hundreds of pages of court documents. She came to the United States 25 years ago from Malaysia. She said being born a girl in a Muslim country and village was a death sentence, and that girls are often killed. Her grandmother beat her, Lee said.
Lee found a U.S. embassy and got a student visa to the U.S. at 16. She enrolled in Winona State University as soon as she arrived in Minnesota. She lived with host families, and at one point lived with some Russian refugees. Lee said she hadn't thought about becoming a doctor until her sister escaped Malaysia and joined her in the U.S. Her sister was only 19 at the time and had a rare breast cancer. The young women went from hospital to hospital and doctor to doctor to try to get medical help. But, Lee said, nobody would see them because they didn't have insurance.
Eventually, they did find treatment, but Lee's sister didn't make it. Before she died, her sister made Lee promise to go into medicine.
Lee went to medical school in Portland. Upon graduation, she asked the government for a work visa. The student visa expired 60 days from graduation day. She said an immigration agent in Portland told her she needed to fill out an application for a national interest waiver.
The waiver is for people with extraordinary ability. The immigration service denied her application.
"She tried to go straight from the student visa to a type of green card she wasn't qualified to get," said Virgil Wiebe, a University of St. Thomas law professor who reviewed at KSTP's request some of the hundreds of documents filed in Lee's immigration journey.
Lee appealed the denial decision, only then realizing she was told to fill out the wrong visa application. She spent the next six years appealing decisions and applying for citizenship. In 2011, a judge ordered her to leave the country, but she was given stays of removal because she wasn't a priority for deportation under President Obama.
The former president's immigration policy prioritized deporting people with criminal records and convictions. As the years passed, and Lee waited for work authorization, she volunteered for medical missions with the Mayo Clinic and Visiting Angels. She volunteered to treat the sick and the poor. She eventually got a work authorization and began to build her life and practice in Rochester.
There, Lee developed a reputation as a doctor who specialized in finding causes of diseases instead of treating symptoms. She had converted to Christianity and become devout. She also found a new family.
Don and Jan Zimmerman unofficially adopted Lee, and she moved in with them after Jan Zimmerman said Lee saved her life.
"I was treated with the wrong medication," Jan Zimmerman said. "I felt like I was dying; it could have killed me."
Lee said many of her patients are miracles.
Jason Duncan and his wife Regina said they had been searching for answers about what was wrong with their 16-year-old daughter since she was a baby.
"Our worst fear was we were going to lose her, absolutely, she was in bad shape," Jason Duncan said. "Some of her systems were shutting down. She was in pain every day."
The Duncans said Lee found the cause and was able to treat their daughter. Sidney Duncan turned the corner and now has better days.
A new lease on life is a reason to celebrate for Joann Buske, who was diagnosed with an aggressive stage four cancer.
Buske said doctors told her to say her goodbyes, get her house in order and prepare to die. But Lee saw something in her lab tests that didn't make sense. Buske said Lee was able to get her into a hospital, and that doctors were able to operate on the tumor. Buske says she is now in remission.
Buske said Lee never turns anybody away, even those who cannot pay. Lee's patients say she'll buy them medicine if they can't afford it. The people who love her say she sleeps three hours a night and works endlessly to help her patients. She said she considers them her family.
"Some of the patients don't have money to pay -- that's okay," Lee said. "More like a ministry to me, this practice."
Everything changed in January of 2017.
"We've seen a shift under the Trump administration to a more concerted effort to deport people," said Wiebe, the St. Thomas law professor.
He said the president's executive order allows ICE agents to deport anybody without legal status, even if they have no criminal record. Wiebe said thousands of people across the country are facing a scenario similar to that of Lee's.
Don and Jan Zimmerman never thought one of them would be the woman they consider a daughter.
"When (Trump) was talking about this deportation, he was talking about the people who come in and live off the United States," Jan Zimmerman said. "She has never done that."
The Zimmermans voted for Trump. KSTP asked if the President's immigration policies are confusing for them now that they are directly affected by them.
"It doesn't confuse me, it angers me," Don Zimmerman said.
"We fear for her life if she has to go to Malaysia," Jan Zimmerman said. "It's a Muslim country -- she's a devout Christian."
The Zimmermans wrote letters begging the president to stop the deportation of the daughter they love. They haven't heard back.
"It makes me sick," Jan Zimmerman said. "My heart just aches when I think of her leaving."
Said Don Zimmerman: "It's not going to be good." Tears streamed down his face and his eyes filled with hurt.
Lee needs a miracle to stay in the U.S. Her ministry of miracles are in the last hours of service.
"I wake up in the morning and I say, 'Thank you, lord, I still have one day here to help,'" Lee said. "I don't know about tomorrow, but I'm really grateful today. I'm still here and I can still help them."
Lee said she has always followed the law and tried to do the right thing. She'll keep fighting, she said, keep doing the right thing until the very end.
"I just want to say thank you to this country," Lee said. "I want to give back. That's my whole point, I want to give back, I want to stay here. Why am I fighting all these years? Because I want to give back."
Lee's lawyer, Malee Ketelsen-Renner, has reached out to the offices of Congressman Tim Walz and Senator Amy Klobuchar to ask for help to stop the deportation. ICE has already told Lee they have her travel documents to Malaysia.
If there is no successful intervention, Lee will report to the ICE office at Fort Snelling Monday. KSTP Investigative Reporter Farrah Fazal and Investigative Photojournalist Jared Bergerson will be there.
ICE's statement on Lee's deportation order, courtesy Shawn Neudauer, ICE public affairs officer:
Guan Choo Lee, is a citizen of Malaysia who entered the U.S. legally in 1992, but overstayed her lawful visit by several years. In the years since, she has pursued several avenues of relief, but ultimately exhausted each. She was granted voluntary departure by a federal immigration judge in 2011, but failed to leave, automatically changing that grant to a final order of removal (deportation order). Since then, in an act of discretion, ICE has granted her several stays of removal and has not placed her in custody.
However, if she fails to comply with the removal order to leave the U.S., she will be listed as an ICE fugitive, subject to arrest and removal, in accordance with U.S. law.
Lee's patients have started a petition to keep her in the U.S. View the petition here.
Updated: October 16, 2017 07:41 PM
Created: October 15, 2017 10:47 PM
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