Gurmukh Singh, a 43-year-old Garden Grove Sikh immigrant from India with no criminal record, has been with his family since being released in October of last year after months of detention in an ICE facility. Since then, life has been anything but easy. He still faces deportation, with another round of negotiations related to his Ninth Circuit Court asylum appeal set for next week.
"I don't know if this is my last mediation," Singh tells the Weekly . "I'm still facing deportation. I'm not at peace."
Singh contends that his previously rejected case was a result of incompetent legal representation.
Congressman Alan Lowenthal has helped Singh in his case. "I have requested ICE to exercise prosecutorial discretion and ICE has agreed to issue a one-year Stay of Removal once the Petition for Review is denied by the Ninth Circuit Court," Lowenthal tells the Weekly. "During a recent meeting with the Singh family, I was heartbroken to see how Mr. Singh's children were terrified that their father might be permanently separated from them."
When asked about a one-year stay being granted now, ICE officials said that only a temporary stay is in place and that a second stay would be redundant. "Despite this verbal commitment, we haven't received anything in writing," says Connie Choi, a Staff Attorney with Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a group that has taken up his cause. "We're in this weird limbo stage where nothing substantive has happened."
Other advocates explicitly want ICE to close the case against Singh, which would clear the way for his wife's approved spousal petition to lead to a green card--but ICE refuses.
Back in Garden Grove, Singh still mulls his future with great reservation, temporary stay of removal or not.
"I have to fear that anytime I could be deported," Singh says. When he first arrived back home, an ankle bracelet was placed on him but removed a week later. Singh's life consists of receiving a house visit from ICE twice a month, making weekly call-ins, as well as monthly visits to the Santa Ana field office.
"Until we receive something in writing, things can change any day," says Choi. "ICE can decide to move forward with Mr. Singh's deportation by executing the removal order."
The Garden Grove family man used to make his living as a taxi driver, reporting at 4 a.m. for his shift. Since being released from detention, he's has not been able to work. Singh spoke to the Weekly in the backyard of his home so as to not disturb his sleeping wife, who has diabetes but nevertheless works graveyard shifts due to the financial hardships the ordeal has caused.
"This month will be very hard," he adds, noting piling bills. "I don't know how I'm going to pay my house."
Since Singh's release, he and his family have gathered petition signatures, talked with neighbors, attended protests and gained support from their local Sikh temple. Groups that have rallied around him include the Orange County Labor Federation, the Keep Our Families Together campaign, Asian Americans Advancing Justice and others.
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"The case of Mr. Singh, a parent of citizen children with no criminal background, further emphasizes what is broken in our current immigration system," Congressman Lowenthal says. "Instead of ripping families apart, we should be working to keep them together."
In the meantime, Singh looks to his faith to give him strength. "I pray to God to help me and help my family otherwise it is going to be very hard," Singh says. "I love my family."
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @dpalabraz