For over two decades, Richard Liu, 61, has called America his home.
Soon that is all going to change because Liu, an undocumented immigrant, has been told he has four months to voluntarily move back to his home country of Taiwan. Liu, who left Lockport on Friday, said he is moving to California for a couple months, and will be voluntarily moving back to Taiwan with his wife.
Liu, who was a professor in Taiwan, joined the True Way group, a religious sect lead by Chen Heng-Ming.
In 1996, the True Way group moved to Garland, Texas and Liu notes there was “a lot of people” at that time who moved with the group because that is where Heng-Ming had said god would appear.
After the prophecy did not come true, most of the group members returned to Taiwan.
“When the prophecy failed ... They felt they were cheated, so most of them went back to Taiwan,” Liu said.
Some of the group members followed him to the Olcott area, which is where they said god would appear after his first prediction did not come true, according to a April 2, 1998 Union-Sun & Journal article by Paul Stephens.
Liu said they were given visas to stay for one year, and the teacher said that, “It’s God’s will that we shouldn’t care about those (visas) and we should stay here.” Liu said
Liu had a tough time getting a job because he didn’t have a legal resident status, so he thanks the Union-Sun & Journal for allowing him and his son to do paper route. His son saw his classmate was delivering the paper and so Liu and his son went to the paper and got routes.
In 2011, Liu’s mother and sister were visiting and they decided to go visit the Old Fort Niagara site, and Liu said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials were outside waiting for Liu and his family.
“We had been living here for so many years keeping a very low profile ... I don’t know how they kept track of us or how they became aware of us,” Liu said.
Liu said fortunately his friend, Ed LaMarca, came and bailed him out of the detention facility.
LaMarca said he has known Liu pretty much since he came to Lockport and described Liu as “intelligent, ethical, resourceful, trustworthy and pretty much all of the superlatives you can think of.”
An attorney was able to assist him in getting the court to close the case after Liu submitted “a lot of information” showing the community work, taxes they paid and public resources they didn’t abuse. Liu added that he taught a literacy program at the library.
President Barack Obama initiated a policy change in 2011 that said his administration was going to focus on deporting immigrants that had committed serious crimes and to pull back from deporting immigrants that weren’t considered a threat, according to Reuters.
Between January 2012 and President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the government closed 81,000 cases, according to data analysis from Reuters. The closures did not give the immigrants legal status, but removed the threat of deportation immediately, Reuters added.
Trump has decided to discontinue that policy and government prosecutors have asked to reopen the cases of undocumented immigrants.
As a result of this policy change, Liu’s case was reopened, and he was told in an immigration court in Buffalo on July 10 that he had four months to voluntarily leave the country.
Liu said “the law is the law” and he must follow the orders he was given.
He observed there isn’t really a clear pathway for him to have become a legal resident.
“We overstayed our legal permission, but the problem is there is no way for us to legalize,” Liu said.
When asked if he would have gone through a legal immigration process, Liu said “of course we would have done that.”
“But there was no alternative, so we were just kept the limbo for 23 years here.”
He said his visa was only good for one year and that he could have had it extended if he had applied before it expired.
“We overstayed the visa. The longest period for a visa is one year,” Liu said. “When the visa is overdue there is nothing to do.”
He said he has a sister in Taiwan, but he really doesn’t know what he is going to do.
“I really have no idea,” Liu said. “Because back in Taiwan the situation is not so good. The economy is going downward. The politics are unstable, especially since there is a conflict between China and Taiwan. So I don’t know, but I just go back.”
For Liu, the one thing he will miss particularly about America is “the people,” noting that people were very friendly and kind to him over the years. He said numerous people in Lockport and the surrounding area welcomed him and his family and truly helped them out sometimes.