SANTA ANA (CBSLA.com/AP) — A Garden Grove taxi driver originally from India was detained Monday by U.S. immigration authorities during a check-in for an 18-year-old deportation order.
Gurmukh Singh, a 47-year-old husband and father of two teenage girls, was detained at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s offices in Santa Ana.
It wasn’t the first time Singh was detained by immigration authorities. In 2013, he was arrested upon attending an interview for an application for a green card that was filed by his U.S. citizen wife — which, his lawyers say, was when he first learned about the old deportation order.
Since then, Singh had sought to get the 1999 order reviewed but the courts last month rejected his efforts.
Democratic Rep. Alan Lowethal sponsored a rare private immigration bill last week in an attempt to help Singh fix his immigration status, and Singh’s lawyers said they filed a request to put his deportation on hold.
“The (ICE) supervisor did explain to me that under President Trump’s current executive order, any person like Mr. Singh who has an outstanding order of deportation is a priority, regardless of the fact that he has strong family ties in the country and no criminal history,” his lawyer Monica Eav Glicken said.
Singh’s 18 year old daughter Manpreet told CBS2 she’s never seen her dad cry like he did Monday.
“Watching him say goodbye was just heart wrenching and devastating,” Manpreet said.
The latest twist in Singh’s lengthy case comes as President Donald Trump’s administration has stepped up efforts to tighten immigration enforcement by building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and boosting deportations.
Immigration authorities said in a statement that Singh’s case has received “exhaustive review” by the U.S. courts, which have repeatedly upheld the 1999 order. In addition, authorities said those who threaten public safety are a focus of the administration but anyone who breaks U.S. immigration laws and has a deportation order could potentially be removed from the country.
“We’re a nation of immigrants, but we’re also a nation of laws,” ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said.
Lowenthal said he believes the case shows how the administration’s priorities have changed under Trump.
“Now what we keep hearing from ICE is everything has changed, all cases are a priority,” he said.
Singh came to the United States in 1998 after sneaking across the U.S.-Mexico border. He applied for asylum, claiming he was fleeing persecution as a Sikh, but was not approved.
From there, his case was shipped to the immigration courts, where Singh was issued a deportation order after failing to show up for a hearing.
His lawyers said he was never told about the hearing and only learned of the deportation order when he was detained in 2013.
Singh said he remained in custody for more than five months.
Singh, who lives in the Orange County city of Garden Grove, said he wants the U.S. to let him stay in the country while filing paperwork toward getting his green card, and that he would travel to India to complete the process so he could return and remain here with his family.
On Monday, he told reporters before his check-in that he was afraid of what would happen to his wife, who suffers diabetes, and his U.S.-born daughters, one who is soon headed to college, if he were taken into custody.
“If I am deported what happens to my family?” he said. “I love my family too much.”
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)