A Sikh man, who had sought asylum in the United States citing religious persecution in India nearly two decades ago, has been detained by immigration authorities in California after losing his latest appeal over a deportation order.
Gurmukh Singh, a 46-year-old taxi driver from Punjab who sneaked into the US without a visa through the border with Mexico in 1998, was taken into custody on Monday after failing to get a stay in his deportation case, amid a clampdown by the Trump administration against undocumented immigrants.
A father of two who is married to a US citizen, Singh had applied for asylum in the US in 1999, citing religious persecution.
Singh, a Garden Grove resident who has no criminal record, checked in with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Santa Ana on Monday as required for individuals with final deportation orders who have been released under supervision.
But the ICE says courts at all levels have upheld his removal order, leading to him being detained.
Singh told reporters he was “very nervous”, according to the Orange County Register.
After Singh had applied for asylum, his case was moved to an immigration court. But his previous counsel did not notify him in advance of his court date in 1999 and did not prepare him, so Singh appeared at the hearing without supporting evidence or testimony.
A judge had then ordered his deportation.
Singh’s wife, Balwinder Kaur, became a US citizen in 2010 and applied for him to become a legal permanent resident in 2012.
It was only then that he found out he had a deportation order on his record. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement had detained Singh in 2013 for five months based on the prior deportation order.
The Orange County Register said immigrants rights groups and politicians had successfully advocated for his release, but two weeks ago a judge dismissed Singh’s appeal to reopen his asylum case.
“I would be broke, the family separated and we’re not supposed to be separated,” Singh said of the prospects of detention and deportation.
“I would be depressed. What would happen to their future, my future?” Singh’s oldest daughter Manpreet Saini, 18, said as he hugged him before ICE officials took him away.
“The look on his face told me there was nothing that could be done. He breaks down. He’s crying. I’ve never seen him cry like that,” she said.
It remains unclear where Singh will be detained and the timeline for any actions the ICE may take but various groups and local elected officials have vowed to scale efforts to demand Singh’s release.
The ICE, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, said in a statement, “While criminal aliens and those who pose a threat to public safety will continue to be a focus, DHS will not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.
“All those in violation of our nation’s immigration laws may be subject to arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”
The ICE has discretion to grant a stay of removal, and immigration officials often did so under the Obama administration, which ordered that non-criminal detainees were not the priority for deportation proceedings.
However, Monica Glicken, Singh’s volunteer attorney through Asian Americans Advancing Justice – OrangeCounty, said “That conversation did not go anywhere.”
“They didn’t even take us into an office. Two ICE agents on each side allowed him a moment and took him away,” Glicken said.
“The (ICE) supervisor said under the Trump administration’s policy, they feel constrained not to exercise discretion.”
Singh’s future as well as that of his family’s is uncertain. His daughter said she may have to find a job instead of pursuing her education to help make ends meet.
“Without him, we would not be able to pursue our dreams,” she said.