‘Rules have changed — ev­ery­body goes’

Yuba City man given 90 days be­fore re­turn to In­dia

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Alene Tchekm­e­dyian

The night be­fore his pe­ri­odic check-in with im­mi­gra­tion agents last week, Baljit Singh’s wife asked him if he felt ner­vous. Yes, he told her. Ev­ery time. It’d been their rou­tine ev­ery six months for years: He’d feel ap­pre­hen­sive, she’d al­ways calm him down, know­ing that as a hus­band and a father with­out a crim­i­nal his­tory, he was at the bot­tom of the pri­or­ity list for Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment.

But af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump took of­fice with plans to ramp up de­por­ta­tions of those in the coun­try il­le­gally, Singh had a feel­ing things would change.

On Aug. 1, his wife took their two young sons to Star­bucks for choco­late crois­sants and then to a li­brary to pick out di­nosaur books. When she re­turned to their Yuba City, Calif., home, Singh wasn’t there. She checked her

phone and saw a voice­mail.

In a teary mes­sage, her hus­band told her that this time, he was get­ting de­ported.

A week later, Singh was re­leased with an an­kle mon­i­tor and 90 days to get his af­fairs in or­der and pre­pare for his de­par­ture to In­dia.

“With this new ad­min­is­tra­tion, the rules have changed — ev­ery­body goes,” his wife, Kate Singh, told The Times on Wed­nes­day, a day af­ter his re­lease from de­ten­tion. “It doesn’t mat­ter if you’re a father and haven’t done any­thing to break the law, or if you’re a crim­i­nal. Ev­ery­body’s go­ing. It’s just a huge cleanup.”

Baljit Singh, 39, en­tered the U.S. il­le­gally 12 years ago through Mex­ico, cross­ing the bor­der into Texas. His at­tor­ney said he fled re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion in Pun­jab, In­dia, where as a Sikh, he feared for his life. Af­ter a judge de­nied his asy­lum case, he ap­pealed his case all the way to the U.S. 9th Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals.

ICE spokes­woman Lori Ha­ley said Wed­nes­day that Singh’s im­mi­gra­tion case has un­der­gone “ex­haus­tive re­view” over the last 11 years at mul­ti­ple lev­els of the Depart­ment of Jus­tice’s im­mi­gra­tion court sys­tem.

“The courts have con­sis­tently held that Mr. Singh does not have a le­gal ba­sis to re­main in the U.S.,” she said via email.

Al­though ICE pri­or­i­tizes en­force­ment re­sources on peo­ple who pose a threat to na­tional se­cu­rity and pub­lic safety, Ha­ley said, the head of the agency has made it clear that any­one in the coun­try il­le­gally “may be sub­ject to ar­rest, de­ten­tion and, if found re­mov­able by the im­mi­gra­tion courts, as Mr. Singh was, re­moval from the United States.”

In Jan­uary 2016, Singh’s court-is­sued re­moval or­der be­came fi­nal. Even so, said his at­tor­ney, Elias Shamieh, Singh was al­lowed to stay in the coun­try as long as he checked in with his im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cer ev­ery six months — un­til last week.

“The hu­man el­e­ment has been stripped from the im­mi­gra­tion ser­vice as it stands right now — there is no com­pas­sion,” Shamieh said. “It’s a re­ally de­struc­tive ap­proach to the im­mi­gra­tion laws.”

About six years ago, Baljit Singh met his nowwife. The pair have two chil­dren: Ar­jin, 5, and Sammy, 3. Kate Singh and the chil­dren are U.S. cit­i­zens.

Baljit Singh sus­pected he would have to re­turn to In­dia at some point, his wife said, but the cou­ple had hoped to wait for their kids to grow older, which would also give them time to save money.

Now, Shamieh said, Baljit Singh must re­turn to In­dia be­fore he can be­gin the pa­per­work to re­turn legally. That process could take six months to two years. If the pa­per­work is de­nied, the lawyer said, he’d have to wait 10 years be­fore he can re­turn.

In a blog post on her web­site, Kate Singh ques­tioned how she would sur­vive fi­nan­cially with­out her hus­band, who as a gas sta­tion man­ager is the sole bread­win­ner of the house­hold.

“I’m all for crim­i­nals, drug deal­ers and trou­ble­mak­ers to be sent back,” Kate Singh wrote. “They are scoop­ing up the good with the bad in their nets just like the de­struc­tion that takes place with net fish­ing. The ined­i­ble fish and pre­cious coral get swooped up with the wanted fish. Habi­tats are de­stroyed with these nets.”

Kate Singh

BALJIT SINGH, shown with his wife, Kate, had been al­lowed to stay in the U.S. if he checked in with im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cers ev­ery six months — un­til last week.

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