NEW YORK— A 48-year-old man had just left his Queens home for coffee when he was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, his attorney told WPIX.
Zengkui Li is a Chinese-born, Canadian citizen who’s been living in the U.S. since 2011. Li has an active green card application to remain here.
Ten years ago, the Chinese government accused Li of arranging for more than three dozen Chinese nationals to illegally leave China for London.
Chinese officials sought help from Interpol – the international law enforcement agency – to issue a warrant for Li’s arrest and extradition back to China. In China, he could face life in prison.
“We don’t have an extradition treaty. So, there is absolutely no authority for a U.S. ICE official to apprehend a lawful U.S. resident for China,” Li's family attorney Jean Wang said.
Li was detained, despite his active green card application, because of ICE's zero-tolerance approach to enforcement since President Donald Trump's election. Specifically, the government often argues there are certain situations and criminal charges that can cancel out an immigrant’s protected status.
"The real reason is this Chinese warrant, which is even less of a reason," Wang said. "The real reason is political."
ICE has not yet responded to a request for comment.
Chembi Li says her father’s case, and his absence, has torn their family apart.
"He's a great father," she said. "This happened so suddenly. We all can't figure out what it is."