A Border Patrol agent apprehends illegal immigrants shortly after they crossed the border from Mexico into the United States, March 26, in the Rio Grande Valley Sector near McAllen, Texas. (Loren Elliott/AFP/Getty Images)
Twenty-one-year-old Gurkripa Singh (not his real name) might be among the lucky few to have entered the U.S. illegally, stayed in jail for less than a month and still have landed a job! For the Ambala resident, it took about 60 days and $60,000 to land in the U.S. as an illegal immigrant, get political asylum and a job of $10 per hour in a local grocery store in Oregon state, writes Lalit K. Jha.
Gurkripa’s parents, who own over five acres of agricultural land, took loans on the farmland and their property to pay Rs. 17 lakh to an agent in Haryana in May this year to help him enter the U.S. illegally through the southern Mexican border.
“We flew (from India) to Mexico,” Gurkripa, who prefers to be called by his pet name Bobby, told PTI in this sleepy town close to Salem, in Oregon, inside a small rural grocery store on the eighth day of his job this week, July 18.
Not in the best of his health and having lost several kilos of weight in the journey that he has taken from Haryana to Oregon this summer, Gurkripa said his group comprised of seven other Indians of his age group from Haryana and Punjab.
From Mexico, the group was transported through multiple modes of transportation to the southern U.S. border in Texas, where they were left by the local agent. They threw away their passports and cellphones and jumped over a nearly five-foot wall to enter what he described as the “dreamland.”
Soon they were arrested by U.S. border patrol officials. Neither Gurkripa nor any of his group members can speak English.
We were arrested immediately, he said, adding that the border patrol sleuths greeted them with Namasteand talked about Sachin Tendulkar and Shah Rukh Khan, indicating that the federal law enforcement agencies capture illegal Indian aliens frequently on the Texas border.
The group was taken to a Texas jail. Gurkripa does not remember the name of the Texas jail, except that there were some 400 Indians already in that overcrowded detention center. A few days later, he was transported to a detention center in Seattle run by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In all I stayed in the jail for 22 days, he said.
The only son of his parents, Gurkripa, speaking a mix of Punjabi and Hindi, said he told the judge that he flew out of India because he feared “political persecution” by Indian authorities.
This is the story I was told to tell the judge, he said. His agent helped him hire an attorney who he said charged him Rs 2.5 lakh.
The judge was convinced and set his release at a bond of Rs 15 lakh. Then he needed a guarantor, which was arranged by his agent. We paid Rs 5 lakh to the guarantor. I was released from the Seattle jail on June 28, he said.
His petition to get political asylum has not been approved yet. The process might take years. In the meantime, he will get an employment authorization card, to be renewed annually, so that he can work. Soon Gurkripa plans to apply for a worker’s permit.
After wandering around for less than two weeks in and around the city of Seattle, he came over to nearby Oregon, where last week he got a job where he will be paid in cash, since he does not have a worker’s permit.
The owner of the grocery store pays him the federal wage of more than $10 per hour (Rs 650). He is looking forward to getting his first salary to send some money to his parents, so that they start repaying the huge loan that they have taken and also for the wedding of his two sisters.
Gurkripa does not know the fate of the other members of his group who jumped the wall in Texas to enter the U.S.
We were together in Texas then we all got separated. I do not know where they are, he said, adding that in both Texas and Seattle, he came across young Indians who have been in prison for more than six months to one year.
Better life and jobs, he said when asked why did he come to the U.S. like this. There are no jobs (in India), he said, little realizing that he might not be able to visit India at least for the next several years till his asylum petition is approved.
If his asylum petition is denied, he faces the risk of being deported back to India. Even if he gets asylum, the current Indian government policy not to give visas to those who have taken political asylum would make it nearly impossible for him to visit the country where he was born.
But Gurkripa is also lucky for not having to walk through the tough terrain of Columbia and Panama before making it to the U.S. Some of the WhatsApp videos sent to PTI by these young Indians are heartrending.
While the authenticity of these short videos could not be verified, some of these youth are seen saying that they have been surviving on leaves in the jungles of Colombia for three to four days. Some of them are seen crying and regretting that they have taken this path.