TOPICS > Education

Senagalese Student Lands in Public Eye Over Pending Deportation

May 2, 2006 at 6:45 PM EDT

ANNOUNCER: There they go.

TOM BEARDEN, NewsHour Correspondent: An international high school robotics competition in Atlanta got a lot more media attention than usual because of Amadou Ly, an 18-year-old from Senegal and a member of an East Harlem robotics team with a Cinderella story. The reason for all the attention is that Ly is an illegal immigrant.

ANNOUNCER: All out of New York, down on the red side…

The case of Amadou Ly

TOM BEARDEN: Ly's mother brought him to New York City in 2001 when he was 13. She returned to Dakar a year later, but left him behind to fend for himself. He's been pretty much on his own ever since, staying with friends and doing odd jobs to support himself.

He's now a senior at New York's Central Park East High School and a valued member of the robotics team, a team that astonished everyone by making it to the highly competitive finals in its first year of existence, beating out several more elite schools.

Last week, Ly was forced to reveal his illegal status to his team because he was unable to produce a government-issued I.D. card to board a flight to Atlanta.

AMADOU LY, Student and Undocumented Immigrant: ... make it clear I'm an illegal alien. And I had immigration problems that I never wanted people to know. Everybody was wondering why I had to take the train rather than the plane, because I didn't have no I.D.

A student's goals

TOM BEARDEN: Ly's teammates weren't aware that federal immigration authorities had been seeking to deport him since 2004.

Your case is very public now. Are you concerned about what happens to you from this point forward?

AMADOU LY: I mean, you know, I just hope, you know, hope that everything is going to be good, everything's going to work out with the immigration case.

TOM BEARDEN: Do you want to stay in the U.S.?

AMADOU LY: Yes, I want to stay in the U.S.

TOM BEARDEN: What are your goals? What are your aspirations?

AMADOU LY: I want to go to college after high school, you know, become a computer engineer.

Georgia's law

TOM BEARDEN: Ly's supporters hope that, by going public, he will be granted some kind of amnesty and will be allowed to stay. But, ironically, the robotics competition brought Ly to Georgia, which has just passed the nation's toughest state law on illegal immigration.

State Senator Chip Rogers is one of the sponsors of the bill.

STATE SEN. CHIP ROGERS (R), Georgia: One of the things we do with public benefits that got a lot of attention is that any adult who applies for public benefits, we're going to verify that that person is eligible to receive those benefits.

For law enforcement, every single person that's arrested for a felony or a DUI charge in Georgia, we're going to verify whether you're here lawfully. If not, we're going to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

TOM BEARDEN: Rogers wasn't unsympathetic to Ly's case, but says there are other considerations.

STATE SEN. CHIP ROGERS: I can't make legislation based on emotional feelings. I mean, you have to make legislation based on logic and what is the best for the state of Georgia or, if you're at the federal level, what's best for the United States.

In that particular case, again, I would highlight the fact that you have a young man who could probably do a lot of good, as intelligent as he is, in his home country, a country that may, in fact, need him, yet he's here in America.

When you have countries who are constantly exporting some of their hardest workers and their best and brightest people to come to our country, I don't think in the long term that's good for them.

The road ahead

KRIS BRETON, Coach, East Harlem Robotics Team: With the adjustments made to it, is it too accurate? Is it too fast?

TOM BEARDEN: Kris Breton is the robotic team's coach. He says Ly has been a hard-working student whose math and science abilities have been a real asset to the team. He says that's even more impressive when one considers the fact that the teenager has excelled academically under difficult circumstances.

KRIS BRETON: It's a school that I'd say is struggling a little bit. You know, it's in a tough part of town. You know, the kids go to school. We deal with kids who are worried about their safety on the way to and from school sometimes.

TOM BEARDEN: Breton says, regardless of the existing laws, Ly ought to be allowed to stay.

KRIS BRETON: I have no doubt that he's earned the right to stay here, you know? We were all immigrants at some point, you know? And I think he's a case where he's done the right things, and he's earned the opportunities to be stay here.

I look forward to, you know, checking in with Amadou a year from now, or two years from now, or three years from now and hoping that he's in school, doing what I know he wants to do. He would love to go to school. So, to keep him from that, I think, is shame on us.

TOM BEARDEN: Ly's team didn't win any awards at the national competition, but his advisers and teammates say the experience they've just been through, of being in the national spotlight, has made the team even stronger, which they say is far more valuable than any trophy or medal.