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Slain Legal Immigrant to Receive Posthumous Degree

Emil Photo Again Edited 61b7dabb61239

I’ve talked about my cousin’s shooting in this space recently.

We still haven’t had justice, but we got a little bit this week.

For those new to this story, my cousin, Stephen Guillermo, 26, was shot and killed when he got off on the wrong floor of his San Francisco apartment building and entered an identical apartment on May 3.

He was shot and killed by a gun-owner, who was arrested for suspicion of murder.

By the following Tuesday, the San Francisco District attorney ordered the man released.

This is the power of the gun laws that favor the mistaken shooter, but not a mistaken victim.

It’s a “shoot first, ask questions later” world.

The law in California is based on something called the “Castle Doctrine,” where one’s home is one’s castle. It allows justification of deadly force on an intruder if one is in imminent danger.

But those who know Stephen find it hard to believe he posed any threat at all.

Much is made of Stephen being inebriated, but he was no worse than a college student on a typical Friday night.

Stephen was smallish, almost child-like. If anything, any drink would have made him even less imposing than he already was. He was unarmed. Non-violent. Half the size of his shooter.

His weapon was his smile.

Now all that is gone.

His killer is free.

Stephen was buried last Thursday.

The Guillermo family still hopes for justice. There is no statute of limitations on murder, no double jeopardy for the suspect.

But we got a small taste of justice when I received an e-mail from Stephen’s International Relations professor at San Francisco State University.

The International Relations Department at San Francisco State, under the urging of his professor and advisor, Professor Sophie Clavier, recommended Stephen be given his degree.

In an email to me, Professor Clavier wrote:

“He was such a hard working young man, and such a nice person. My heart goes to you as I remember Stephen’s beautiful smile. The IR Department grieves with you.”

Stephen was an older student because he worked two jobs—not to pay off student loans, but to help his family.

When Stephen was 19, his father died of cancer, and Stephen had an inheritance—the family’s credit debt.

He worked to pay that off, support his family, and be father to his younger siblings.

But getting his college degree was his most important goal.

This was the payoff for a poor immigrant kid from the Philippines. An education from a U.S. place of higher learning, SFSU, was his chance to graduate and fulfill a dream that would lead to working in the foreign service and seeing the world.

And it all revolved around achieving what may have seemed to be an impossible dream—getting that piece of paper.

For the kid who came to the U.S. at age 8, after his family waited nearly 20 years to become legal immigrants, the degree was the only thing that made him “undocumented.”

And now San Francisco State University sees fit to award Stephen a posthumous diploma for his hard work. A special graduation ceremony for Stephen is being planned.

To SFSU, and to Professor Clavier of the International Relations department, the family is truly grateful for the gesture of justice.

If only the San Francisco District Attorney would value Stephen’s case and his life in the same way.

Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund ( Like him at ; him on or follow twitter @emilamok

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