After being released by federal immigration authorities this week, Yuba City resident Baljit Singh ran his dogs along the river, played with his sons and started thinking about what may be his last three months in America.
Singh, 39, was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, in Sacramento during a required check-in with federal authorities on Aug. 1. After being held for a week at Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center near Elk Grove, he was granted a three-month reprieve Tuesday.
Singh, from India, is undocumented and has been fighting for legal status for more than 12 years after crossing the border illegally from Mexico in 2005. His immigration case went to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where Singh ultimately lost a bid for political asylum in 2016. He has a final order for deportation issued against him.
ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley said Singh was granted 90 days “to afford him time to get his personal affairs in order and make preparations for his departure.”
Singh has been doing ICE check-ins for years, but said immigration authorities told him that “it’s now a new administration so now everything is changed,” he said Wednesday at his Yuba City home.
Singh said he has no criminal record. His wife, Kate Singh, is a U.S. citizen. The couple married in 2011 and have two young sons, ages 5 and 3.
Baljit Singh has worked for the same employer on and off for nine years, managing and running gas stations. The couple moved to Yuba City this year to be near a gas station where he was working. They bought a fixer-upper house for $135,000, said Kate Singh, and renovated it themselves in a six-week frenzy.
Baljit Singh said he wanted to get the house ready for his family before his August immigration appointment because he felt that things might not go well for him.
“I have fear, fear all the time,” said Singh.
ICE says greater enforcement increases public safety, and the agency is now detaining those without criminal histories – a practice less common in the final years of the Obama administration.
Nationally, ICE agents arrested 41,898 individuals between Jan. 22 and April 29 of this year, a 38 percent jump over the same period in 2016, the agency reported. About 25 percent of those apprehended had no criminal convictions, an increase of 150 percent.
“While ICE continues to prioritize its enforcement resources to focus on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security, the agency’s Acting Director has made it clear that ICE will not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” Haley said in a statement. “This administration is committed to the rule of law and to enforcing the laws established by Congress. When we fail to enforce those laws, what message are we sending to the millions of people who respect that process and are waiting outside the U.S. now for visas that will enable them to enter the country lawfully?”
When he checked in at the downtown Sacramento office, Singh said he knew something was different. Normally, the immigration authorities take people in batches of about 10, he said. He waited while others were called. Eventually, an agent took him to the back alone and told him he was being detained because of his undocumented status.
“I was crying,” he said. “It’s like the worst happened.”
He was taken to the Elk Grove detention facility, where he was placed in a barracks-style room with about four dozen other noncriminal detainees, Singh said. They rose at 5 a.m., had one hour of exercise daily and mostly watched Spanish-language television to pass the time.
“I call it the other hell you see on earth,” Singh said of his time in detention. “You are cut from everything, your family, your whole world.”
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, has asked ICE for a delay in Singh’s deportation. “There is more than enough work for ICE to do going after criminals,” he said.
Haley said that “Singh’s immigration case has undergone exhaustive review at multiple levels of the Department of Justice’s immigration court system ... Additionally, Mr. Singh had his case reviewed multiple times before the United States Court of Appeals. The courts have consistently held that Mr. Singh does not have a legal basis to remain in the U.S, and his court-issued removal order became final in January 2016.”
Singh said he will fight to stay in the United States, despite what his lawyer, Elias Shamieh, described as a “challenging” case.
“I’m going to fight for my family, my kids, for everything,” he said. “It’s my responsibility to take care of them.”