Early the morning of June 8, Sukhdev Singh was caring for his 8-year-old daughter, Ashmeet, who has cerebral palsy, brain damage and who is unable to walk or speak. There was a knock on the door of the family home on Dyckman Avenue in New Hyde Park.
Singh’s wife, Rajwinder Kaur, answered and was greeted by the sight of several federal immigration agents, she later recalled. Their orders were to take Singh, who years ago lost a claim for political asylum, into custody. Singh had been living in the country since 1999 under government supervision, worked as a cabdriver, and paid his taxes, his family said. He is a loving father to Ashmeet and two other children.
“I begged them please don’t take my husband,” Kaur recalled in a telephone interview.
The agents noticed the condition of young Ashmeet, Kaur said, but told her they still had their orders and took her husband away. The appearance of so many strangers in the house caused Ashmeet, who requires feeding through a special tube, to begin coughing and vomiting. Eventually she was taken to the emergency room at Cohen Children's Medical Center, where she was stabilized.
For the past several weeks, Singh has been kept in federal immigration holding facilities in Louisiana and has been the subject of a major effort by immigration attorneys there and in New York to prevent his deportation back to his native India.
Staffers at the office of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) even took up the case and have asked that Singh be allowed to remain in the United States.
“Mr. Singh has no record of wrongdoing and should be allowed to remain here in … [New York] to be with his U.S. citizen family, including his daughter who has cerebral palsy,” said Angelo Roefaro, a Schumer spokesman. “This is a compassionate and common sense thing to do and we will push for this outcome.”
In court papers, government attorneys maintain that Singh’s detention is lawful and that his removal from the United States is imminent. Government attorneys in the office of Western Louisiana U.S. Attorney David C. Joseph also said the federal court lacked jurisdiction in the case.
One member of Singh's legal team, noted immigration attorney Allen Kaye, said Singh likely would have been deported had not a team of lawyers brought emergency legal action in Louisiana, where a federal magistrate-judge told immigration officials not to move him. A hearing is scheduled Thursday.
Singh's attorneys are attempting to get him successfully through the labyrinth of immigration regulations that cover someone who was already at risk for deportation but is also married to an American citizen. One of the regulations is very technical but has been used often in the past, Kaye said.
Kaur, a U.S. citizens, and Singh, 47, were married in 2014 and in addition to Ashmeet have two other daughters, Agamjot, 4, and Avroop, 6.
The legal filings, crafted by attorney Allison Page in New Orleans and Kaye’s associate Yi Zhao at the firm Pollack, Pollack, Isaac & DeCicco LLP in New York, are aimed at showing the court and the government how the deportation of Singh would irreparably harm his family, notably Ashmeet. If Singh were deported, his wife would be left to struggle raising a disabled child who requires round-the-clock care, as well as raise the other two daughters, the court filings stressed.
“When one of those children is as disabled as Ashmeet is, it is impossible for the remaining spouse to fill the void in care,” attorney Page said in a court memorandum.
Kaur’s sister Kamljeet Kaur of Queens said that as Ashmeet grows, it is harder for anyone but her father to physically move her. Besides, Ashmeet’s father was her life, often the only person she would respond to.
“Her attachment to her father is something else,” said Kamljeet, 24. “He was the one who always took her out of the house, amuse her with facial expressions.”
With her father absent, Ashmeet doesn’t appear to smile anymore. The one exception, recalled Kamljeet, was during a recent video telephone call with her father in Louisiana.
“Hearing his voice brought a smile on her face; otherwise she is really moody,” Kamljeet said.
Kaye is guardedly optimistic about a favorable ruling from the judge.
“We are hoping he decides favorably,” Kaye said.