Home / US / US Borders: Parents of the Indian 6-year-old who died speaks out

US Borders: Parents of the Indian 6-year-old who died speaks out

The little girl had a black short-sleeved sweater and black pants when she took her first step in America.

For too long, the temperatures in the Arizona desert would rise to 108 degrees.

Guruprett's mother would leave her with others when she went to search for water.

And she would never see her daughter alive again.

One day after the girl went to Arizona, Border Patrol agents found her remains.

It was a tragic end to a journey that began half a world away.

  A file photo from March 201[ads1]7 shows the border near Lukeville, Arizona. Authorities say Gurupreet Kaur's remains were found 17 miles west of Lukeville.

They left India seeking security

Gurupreet's parents spoke out Monday for the first time since their daughter's death, saying they had made the tour because they felt they had no other choice.

"We wanted a safer and better life for our daughter and we made the extremely difficult decision to seek asylum here in the United States," they said in a statement from the non-profit Sikh Coalition. "We trust that every parent, regardless of origin, color or creed, will understand that no mother or father ever puts their child in the evil unless they are desperate."

The girl father, named A. Singh, has been living in the United States since 2013 and has an asylum application waiting for the New York Immigration Court, said Sikh Coalition Program Director Mark Reading-Smith.

The girl's mother, identified as S. Kaur, crossed the border with her this month. It is not clear when the mother and daughter left their home in the northern Indian state of Punjab, or how exactly they made their way to the US-Mexico border.

Three others from India – another mother and daughter and another woman – were also with them when they crossed, said US Customs and Border Protection.

There has been an uptick in undocumented Indian migrants who crossed the US-Mexico border in recent years, according to Border Patrol statistics.

Proponents say they have noticed the trend, but do not know why more people from South Asia are making the trip.

"We have tried to figure it out," said Gujari Singh, Head of Communications for the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund. "Every case has been a little different. It doesn't seem to be an exact cause. … There is definitely some kind of movement, but we're not really sure why."

Kaur is a surname many Sikh women share. And after the medical examiner released his identity, the little girl's death eased an outbreak of responses from individuals and organizations who looked in her name.
"The immigration crisis directly affects the Sikh community," said the fund in Facebook posting the news. "Gurupreet Kaur's death is scary and we must make sure that it never happens again."

Deepak Ahluwalia, an immigration lawyer in California, who is on the board of the Sikh coalition, said the news was even more devastating when he learned the little girl's name and realized she was from Punjab.

"It hurts even more when you have a connection to that person … My parents were from Punjab, I represent many South Asian people and it's just disappointing to see things like this," he said.

  Who is Sikh and what do they think?

The day after he learned about the girl's death, Ahluwalia called a call from the Sikh Coalition, putting him in touch with his mother. He now represents her in immigration procedures. Her first court appearance in the New York Immigration Court has not yet been planned, Ahluwalia said, but when she has a chance, she will seek asylum.

The lawyer said he has not yet been able to discuss many details of her immigration case with the grieving mother, who is devastated by her daughter's death.

"All I know is that she was persecuted by someone in her homeland," Ahluwalia said on Monday.

An increasing number of immigrants from India are seeking asylum, fleeing political or religious persecution, Ahluwalia said. And even without knowing many details about this family case, he said that the fact that they decided to make the dangerous journey shows how desperate they must have been.

"This was not something they thought was a walk in the park and once they got there they learned how bad it was," he said. "It really makes you think about how badly the circumstances really have to be in your home country because you want to make that trip and risk your own child's life."

Cross the border

It was mid-morning on June 11 when smugglers dropped the group Gurupreet traveling near an interstate on the Mexican side of the border and told them to go north.

The area about 17 miles west of Lukeville, Arizona, is "extremely remote", and it is rare for migrants to cross there, says agent Pete Bidegain, a Tucson border patrol specialty operator.

"You can't find a more remote area along the southwestern border than that group crossing," he said.

There is no boundary wall there – only a series of 3-meter metal poles that are driven into the ground to block vehicles from crossing.

  February 2017 file photo shows border fence outside Lukeville, Arizona.

It was not long before the Gurupreet and the other child in the group – an 8-year-old – struggled.

"When they went north they were in a real desert area," said Bidegain. "The little girls started under the bad right of the bat."

The group decided to divide. Gurupreet's mother went away with another woman to search for water, and left the Gurupreet with the other mother and the child.

"They could never find each other again," Bidegain said.

One day later, on the morning of June 12, a border patrol group patrolled patrolling a trail of tracks in the sand. He came across the two women who had been searching for water – and learned that the rest of their group was missing.

Agents searched the area for hours and found Guruprett's remains.

It took them more than a day of further searching to find the other mother and the child she had remained with. They were taken to a hospital and treated for dehydration. The authorities are not sure exactly how the group was separated – or what happened to them in the desert.

Search for answers

The authorities decided the Gurupreet about heat stroke.

"She traversed through the desert in a very hot environment and gave success to the elements," said Pima County Chief Medical Examiner Gregory Hess.

She had a black short-sleeved sweater, black pants and a hair necklace, Hess said. 19659002] Bidegain, the border patrol agent, said the thing is the kind of tragedy that is too common along the border. Relying on cartel-smuggling transactions to cross the border, he says, is not worth the risk.

"They are a profit-making business and they have no regard for the people they smuggle," he said. "That's what we just see continuously here along the border here in Arizona."

So far this year, 70 undocumented immigrants have been killed in the area, according to the Pima County Medical Examiner Office, which traces migratory deaths. Last year, 127 died.

Lawyer groups say the government's policy is guilty of the rising toll.

  American asylum seekers face long waiting times or risky crossings, due to presumed capacity crisis

] Long awaiting entry couples, they argue, forcing asylum seekers to cross in more remote and dangerous places.

"As US Customs and Border Protection has escalated border management and aggressively renounced migrants trying to cross port entry, deaths have continued to mount," South Asian Americans who led together (SAALT) said in a statement. "Migrants are forced directly back to the dangerous conditions that CBP and other federal authorities often blame on migrant traders and smugglers."

The group sent a letter to CBP last week, calling for an immediate investigation of Gurupreet's death.

"Despite heavily increasing budgets for DHS in general and CBP," the letter says, "the treatment of migrants has deteriorated significantly, and we deserve answers right away."

Preparations for a funeral

Gurupreet s The parents had not seen each other since 2013, about six months after she was born.

Now, the 33-year-old father and the 27-year-old mother are together and are planning their burial funeral.

In their statement Monday, the parents asked for privacy and said their family is broken over Guruprett's death.

"We will bear the burden of the loss of our beloved Gurupreet for a lifetime," the statement says, "but we will also continue to hold on to America remaining a compassionate nation based on immigrant ideals that make diversity this nation's greatest strength. "

The Sikh coalition said that a private funeral or Gurupreet will be held Friday in New York City," the city her family had hoped to make their home. "

CNN's belief Karimi and Sugam Pokharel contributed to this report.

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