When the body of a six-year old Indian girl was found June 12, 17 miles west of Lukeville, Arizona, after she reportedly crossed the U.S.-Mexico border as part of a group, it focused attention on a little known problem — the rise in the number of people from India crossing the U.S Mexico border illegally.
A June 14 CNN report, quoting Pima County Chief Medical Examiner Gregory Hess, identified the girl as Gurupreet Kaur.
Kaur had been reportedly been traveling with four others who were dropped near the international boundary by human smugglers. They were told, according to a U.S. Border Patrol press release, to cross into the U.S. from the Arizona border in the “dangerous and austere location.”
An Arizona medical examiner said last week that Kaur had died of hyperthermia. Temperatures in the area where agents found her remains hovered around 108 degrees.
Two Indian women who were apprehended at the border told the Tucson Sector Border Patrol that three others, a woman and two children, had become separated from them hours earlier.
Agents took the two women into custody and began searching the area north of the international border in remote terrain, seven miles west of Quitobaquito Springs, for the missing persons.
Within hours, they discovered the little girl’s remains, which were recovered by the Pima County Sheriff’s Department. According to the National Weather Service, the temperature in the area was approximately 108 degrees on that day.
“Our sympathies are with this little girl and her family,” said Tucson Chief Patrol Agent Roy Villareal. “This is a senseless death driven by cartels who are profiting from putting lives at risk."
According to the CNN report, the number of Indian nationals apprehended at the Southwest border has been steadily climbing, and sharply increased last year, based on Border Patrol statistics.
In the 2018 fiscal year, 8,997 people from India were apprehended at the Southwest border — more than triple the number from the year before, when 2,943 Indian migrants were apprehended. It was far higher than the number of migrants from India apprehended at the border a decade ago.
Although that number is still a small percentage — about 2 percent of the overall number of migrants apprehended at the Southwest border in fiscal year 2018 – the clear majority of migrants apprehended at the border are from Latin American countries, largely from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Last week after agents found the girl's body, they continued to search for the other two people who had been traveling with her, the Border Patrol release said. The National Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection sent out aircraft and helicopters to search the area. In addition, agents from the Bureau of Land Management, Border Patrol Station and Border Patrol Search Trauma and Rescue Unit searched from the ground. The investigation was continuing at press time.
An increase in Indian nationals and other migrants from outside the Western Hemisphere illegally crossing the US-Mexico border has been “an emerging trend for the past few years”, a Department of Homeland Security official told CNN.
Jessica Bolter, a research assistant at the Migration Policy Institute who tracks migration patterns at the border, told CNN that there has been a pretty significant increase in general in migrants coming from other continents, not just India.
“With this girl from India, there hasn't been confirmation that she was traveling in a family, but it's likely," Bolter said, adding that ,“This trend of increased family migration is echoing not just throughout Central America, but also beyond even the Americas. It indicates the message that families can enter the U.S. easily is spreading.”
In June 2018, as many as 52 asylum-seekers from India, most of them Sikhs but also reportedly a few Christians and Nepalese, were held at a federal detention facility in Sheridan, Oregon, for being part of a large contingent of illegal immigrants.
“Through our Punjabi translator, we learned that these men were planning to request asylum" because they allegedly faced “severe religious persecution in India," Oregon Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, who along with other lawmakers visited the facility, said.
Muzaffar Chishti, director of Migration Policy Institute’s office at New York University School of Law, said in an interview with India Abroad last year that the political basis for applying for asylum during the 80s might have been quite high but then one could argue that there is a democratic government in Punjab for the past many years, and it has sometimes been led by the Akali Dal party, believed to be the Sikhs’ party.
“So, the argument of political persecution does not seem to hold at all these days as far as people from Punjab are concerned,” he told this correspondent.