A graduate student from the University of California at Davis who launched a national facebook campaign to avoid being deported to India with her mother won an 11th hour stay last week after immigration officials issued a memo allowing for greater discretion in DREAM Act-eligible cases. Mandeep Chahal and her mother, who are both undocumented, had bought a plane ticket to their native Punjab, India, but were granted a temporary stay by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to appeal their deportation order. The unusual stay came after Ms. Chahal, an activist who has raised money to help the world’s poor, sparked the national facebook campaign that attracted more than 4,000 supporters. They had petitioned two California Senators and asked the Obama administration to use its legal discretion to stop the deportation of this young lady who had come to the United States at age six and was voted “Most Likely to Save the World” in high school.
“The stay is fairly unusual, and it happened because political action and publicity worked to stay the deportation,” said Kevin Johnson, dean at the UC Davis School of Law. “Why does the U.S. government want to deport a person like this, who appears to be a college student in good standing, who can make a contribution to the United States? We’re talking about tens of thousands of kids nationally in this situation who aren’t criminal aliens but upstanding residents.” This stay came days after the U.S. Congress held a subcommittee meeting to discuss the DREAM Act proposition and little over a week after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton issued a memo on the use of discretion in deportation cases. Key factors in consideration, according to Mr. Morton, include the individual’s length of time in the United States, “particularly if the alien came to the United States as a young child and have graduated from a U.S. high school or… successfully pursued or are pursuing a college or advanced degrees a legitimate institution of higher education in the United States.”
As a testament to this young student’s potential, Ms. Chahal has spent two years at UC Davis where she is studying to become a doctor “so she can remediate suffering in the Third World,” said her high school history teacher, Robert Freeman. “She’s the kind of kid you wish you had 50 more of. I called her ‘The Professor.'” She served as president of her high school Amnesty Internationalchapter and has helped Freeman´s nonprofit, One Dollar For Life, raise money from students across the country to build a dozen schools in Third World countries. She and her mother both fled Punjab in 1997 for political persecution, entering the U.S. illegally to join Ms. Chahal’s father, a legal resident, and they both applied for asylum. Yet because of the huge backlog in immigration courts, the case dragged on for six years. Subsequently, they missed a court date and were ordered deported in 2003 but it was not until last year when they were picked up by ICE agents at a shopping mall that they were detained for nearly a month. According to their lawyer, ICE granted a stay of deportation to afford her more time to pursue their legal options in this case after having filed a motion to reopen their asylum case based on ineffective assistance by their prior attorney. The case has now been appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals and could take six months to resolve.
At a press conference organized by America´s Voice Education Fund in Washington D.C., Chahal´s supporters said her case highlights the urgent need for immigration reform to allow Chahal and promising young people like her who had no control over how they got into this country to become productive citizens. They urged ICE director Mr. Morton to exercise discretion because “Mandeep meets all of these criteria, and more,” said an America´s Voice spokesman. “She and her mother will be one of the first cases to test the implementation of the Morton memo.” While the DREAM Act continues to be debated in Congress and beyond, we are pleased that this case is going in this direction, which we consider to be the right one, because it dignifies the immigration process and these youths that are more than worthy of being a part of our American society by having a taste of the American Dream.