Gurmurkh Singh, an undocumented Indian immigrant from Garden Grove, was released from the California City Correctional Center where he had been detained for the past several months facing deportation. Denied political asylum as an activist in the separatist movement for Sikh self-determination in India, he has lived in the United States since 1998. The possibility that the torture survivor might be sent back in separation of his family motivated local immigrant rights activists to rally around his cause.
They celebrate a partial victory as Singh was released from detention and transferred to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field office in Bakersfield, where he reunited with his family yesterday morning after they posted the $4,000 bond it took to get him out. "I missed my family a lot. It had been many months," he told the Weekly en route back home.
As Singh recounts, the morning's events were a surprise. "After 9 a.m., my officer came and he asked me, "Singh have you talked to your family?" The Garden Grove man said that he had done so just the day before in the afternoon. "OK, we decided to give you a $4,000 dollar bond," Singh recalls his officer saying next. "I signed the paperwork and that's it. I checked the stuff in my bag and my officer brought me outside. I saw my wife, my daughters, my nephew, and my brother-in-law."
He also saw Alexis Teodoro, an organizer with the Santa Ana immigrant youth group RAIZ that has embarked on a Keep Our Families Together campaign. They partnered with attorneys with Asian Americans Advancing Justice to work on urging prosecutorial discretion in the case. "I'm very thankful to them," Singh says.
After originally being denied asylum, the man who makes his living as a taxi driver went to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Bakersfield earlier this year as his wife, Balwinder Kaur, planned to apply for a family-based visa on his behalf to normalize his status. Unbeknownst to Singh, his original asylum denial was followed up by a 'notice to appear,' one he says he never ever got but was the pretext for him being taken into custody that day.
Kaur's spousal petition was ultimately approved, but his immigration status is still precarious. "Mr. Singh still has a final order of deportation," says Connie Choi, Staff Attorney with Asian Americans Advancing Justice. "Right now there is a request before the Ninth Circuit to reopen his asylum case based on ineffective assistance of counsel."
Activists continue to urge supporters to contact the San Francisco ICE field office to grant Singh prosecutorial discretion in his case, which would effectively clear him out of removal proceedings. "We are asking ICE to stay his deportation which we haven't gotten any resolution yet," Choi says. Until then, Singh has to regularly report to the ICE field office in Santa Ana starting today, as he was released under an order of supervision.
"The reason we took on this case is because we think that it is an important test case for the ICE parental interest directive that was just issued in August," the attorney adds. "Basically, [it] says that prosecutorial discretion should be granted to parents of minor U.S. citizen children and also to those who are primary caretakers of these children as well. We see this as a test to see if the Obama Administration is really going to live up to its word.
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Singh's two young daughters and wife are all U.S. citizens. His elderly parents are lawful permanent residents. The still-looming prospects of an ICE deportation frightens him.
"I don't know what would happen to my family or to me. I don't know if I would be able to come back," he says. "My daughters, they are growing up. I have to be with them."
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @dpalabraz