Tuesday, June 21, 2011

UC Davis student granted last-minute deportation reprieve (San Jose Mercury News)

UC Davis student granted last-minute deportation reprieve

By Matt O'Brien
Contra Costa Times

Updated: 06/21/2011 01:23:45 PM PDT

SAN FRANCISCO -- Immigration agents who planned to deport a UC Davis pre-medical student and her mother to India early Wednesday morning instead let the family remain in the United States temporarily.

Friends and advocates launched a last-minute campaign over the weekend to halt Mountain View resident Mandeep Chahal's deportation, which was scheduled for 1 a.m. Wednesday. The 20-year-old has lived in the Bay Area since she was 6 years old and studies neurology, physiology and behavior at UC Davis.

"If anyone we know is going to be sent out of the United States, the last person it should be is Mandeep Chahal," said best friend Julia Duperrault, who has known Chahal since they were middle school classmates in Los Altos.

Duperrault said at a hastily organized news conference hosted by a national advocacy group Tuesday that students at Los Altos High School voted to name Chahal the classmate "Most Likely to Save the World," a reflection of her bright personality, academic ambition and interest in helping others locally and worldwide.

"That was a landslide," Duperrault said. "That's really how she's known in our community."

Lawyers say the honors student did not know she was undocumented until a few years ago, and that her mother had applied for political asylum in the 1990s but faced a 6-year backlog and then failed to appear at a 2003 hearing in which a judge ordered her deported. The family arrived from India's Punjab state in1997. Lawyers said the mother may have received poor legal representation during her asylum proceedings.

The student and her mother have lived with electronic monitoring bracelets around their ankles since the mother was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement last year.

They were ordered to book their own commercial flight back to India by this week. The family reported to the San Francisco office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement at 8:30 Tuesday morning. Federal agents were scheduled to transport them to San Francisco International Airport for a flight that leaves early Wednesday morning.

But as Chahal and her mother were placed in federal custody, Santa Clara lawyer Kalpana Peddibhotla filed an emergency request asking for the deportation to be put on hold. An immigration board of appeals based in Virginia reviewed the request and denied it about a half hour later.

But immigration agents decided on their own to release the mother and daughter.

Peddibhotla cited new deportation guidelines that tell federal agents to use prosecutorial discretion when immigrants are not considered a priority for deportation. John Morton, the nation's director of immigration enforcement, announced the new guidelines in a memo released Friday.

Among those who deserve special consideration are college students who came to the United States as children, according to the memo.

Peddibhotla said that memo might have made a difference for Chahal, as did the fast-moving national campaign to keep her in the country.

"I am pretty certain if that hadn't happened, they would be sitting on a plane tonight," Peddibhotla said.

If deported this week with her mother, Chahal would have left several family members behind, including two U.S.-born brothers, ages 11 and 6, her paternal grandparents, who are legal permanent residents, and her father, who is also in deportation proceedings.

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