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NRI couple finally released from jail

July 29, 2005 18:35 IST

The nightmare is finally over for Gokal and Sheila Kapoor, an elderly Hindu couple that fled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan eight years ago to find a new life in America but ended up in a Virginia jail alongside hardened criminals, following the rejection of their asylum request.

They were released on July 28 because, their attorney Michael Maggio told India Abroad, the stupidity of their arrest became more and more apparent.

Contributing factors include intense support for their cause, some high profile lawyering by Maggio and his associates, and political pressure from several Congressmen and Senators, notably Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican.

The lawmaker got involved because Gokal's younger brother, Wishwa Kapoor, lives in that state and is chief of general internal medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

"It is absurd to think that the Department of Homeland Security could not understand the plight of this elderly couple," Maggio said. Gokal is 70 and his wife, 69. "There was even a suggestion to send them back to Afghanistan."

The couple is now out of jail, but not entirely free yet -- Maggio now has to initiate legal action to get them permanent residency.

The lawyer said he was stunned and pleased at the outpouring of support from all over Pennsylvania and beyond. Faxes and emails to the Department of Homeland Security became so voluminous, at times averaging over 100 a day, that the family started sending messages to the supporters to stop the mail.

The couple had entered America illegally, and while their political asylum plea was being studied, they received a temporary work permit. They took up a number of low paying jobs, determined not to be a burden on Wishwa Kapoor.

Their work permit however lapsed several weeks ago, and on June 22 an immigration judge denied them asylum. They were arrested the same day, from their Virginia home.

According to Sitara Nieves, niece of Gokal Kapoor, the couple was told that they were to be questioned about an investigation going on at Dulles airport.

"They were supposed to be back in two hours," Nieves said in a faxed message, adding that it took Maggio two days to locate them.

"Can you believe that this couple, who belonged to a minority religion and who lived in Afghanistan at the height of Taliban's brutal regime, could not get asylum in America?" Maggio said. "We are all glad that the Kapoors are out of jail, but there are thousands of other Kapoors in jails across in America because of bureaucratic apathy, indifference or insensitivity.

"It was hardest on Sheila Kapoor," he continued. "It was like her dignity and self-respect were being robbed  She was also separated from her husband and was surrounded by hardened criminals. She suffered enormous amount of stress."

"This sweet, elderly and sickly couple posed no threat to America," he said. "By releasing them, at least the government showed it can right a wrong."

Arthur J Pais in New York