Li was studying at San Francisco City College to be a nurse, but on Sept. 15, immigration agents knocked on his door.
"They didn't tell me anything. They just searched me, threw me in the car and handcuffed me," said Li.
Li appeared with his mother Tuesday to share their story. His parents left China to escape the country's one-child policy. They went to Peru where Li was born. Then, when he was 11, they moved to the United States.
Li never knew he was not a legal resident. So he was stunned when he was ordered deported, then sent to an Arizona detention center where he spent the last two months.
"We were body searched multiple times a day, going in and out of our jail cell. There were just three toilets and four showers for 64 people. I was being treated like a criminal," said Li.
However, Li's friends and fellow students mobilized to help him. The demonstrations got the attention of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who introduced a bill to block his deportation. Li was released Friday and on Tuesday thanked his supporters.
"That's the only thing that kept me going forward every morning that I woke up while I was incarcerated. So many people out here were supporting me," said Li.
But Li's lawyer says the victory is temporary.
"He doesn't have any legal status. He's actually in limbo status. He still has a final order of deportation," said attorney Sin Yen Ling from the Asian Law Caucus.
Li is working to pass the Dream Act – a bill that would create a path to citizenship for him and tens of thousands of other students who were brought to the U.S. as minors. In the meantime, he's just relieved to be back with his family.
"There is definitely going to be a lot to be thankful for this coming Thanksgiving," said Li.
Li had been scheduled to be deported to Peru where he was born, that's now on hold. His parents were ordered sent to China where they are citizens, but China has not agreed to accept them and the U.S. is not moving to forcibly deport them, so for the time being, the family is still together.
Written and produced by Jennifer Olney