Mandeep Chahal was voted 'Most Likely to Save the World' in 2009 by her classmates at . The sophomore at UC-Davis appeared to be on track, declaring an ambitious major that included neurology, physiology and behavior, in preparation for medical studies.
But, it turns out, it was her classmates who rallied on Facebook to save her, first.
On Tuesday at 8 a.m., Chahal and her mother, Jagdish Kaur, reported to immigration authorities, having exhausted eight years of appeals. It had been a frustrating and disappointing end as they waited for their lawyer to try one more time before the 1 a.m. deportation flight to India took off.
By 9:45 a.m., as immigration reform advocates were holding a teleconference to describe her plight as a test case for new guidelines on prosecutorial discretion issued last week, the pair was granted a stay.
"Mandeep and her mother have been released, though their situation has not been fully resolved," said Kalpana Peddibhotla, the attorney for the pair, referring to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under which Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) fall. "I am in communication with the DHS and am hopeful we will have a definitive resolution to their case soon.
"I and the family wish to thank the thousands of supporters from around the country who have advocated on their behalf, without which I am fairly certain that Mandeep and her mother would have been deported."
It went to the eleventh hour, immigration reform policy advocates said, despite the memo issued Friday by John Morton, director of ICE that specify deportation proceedings can be deferred in cases of students like Chahal. The memo (contained in the pdf section above) spells out several categories of people for which care should be taken before deportation, and dictates that decisions be made early in the process so resources are not needlessly expended.
During a teleconference Tuesday, immigration policy experts said the Mountain View resident's case would be the first test of the June 17 "Morton Memo," that has sought to repair the damage by the Secure Communities enforcement effort.
"If there is ever a case of the kind of person we want in our society, this is it," said Robert Freeman, her Los Altos High history teacher, who founded a non-profit organization with Chahal, One Dollar For Life, that builds schools in the developing world.
"It is a horrific travesty," he said. Chahal would have been a candidate for the DREAM Act, which failed passage earlier this year.
While her lawyer worked feverishly for a stay, her childhood and college friends coalesced quickly over the past three days. They were not giving up without a fight, marshalling Facebook, phoning California's two senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and U.S. Rep Anna Eshoo.
"Our community is where Mandeep belongs, and she deserves to stay," Julia Duperrault, who met Chahal as a 7th grader at Egan Jr. High School. She describes her on the "Stop the Deportation of Mandeep Chahal" Facebook Page as "without a doubt, my best friend."
Duperrault had attended Bullis Purissima School and Chahal to Santa Rita School, but when they met at Egan, they became fast friends, and cheered each other on in their activities. Chahal became president of the Amnesty International Club, and emceed for the "Jamnesty" music fundraisers for Haiti at in Mountain View.
"We graduated side by side," Duperrault said. "My little brother and her little brother have been friends. Our moms have been soccer moms together."
Chahal's supporters say that she fits the ICE criteria amply and deserves a deferment of deportation. The Morton memo explicitly states that the agency should consider a person’s length of time in the U.S., whether she entered the country as a young child, whether she is pursuing a degree of higher education, and whether she meets the agency’s enforcement priorities before carrying out a deportation, contends America's Voice, an immigration organization, self-described as founded to promote "commonsense immigration reform."
According to Chahal's advocates, their case began in 1997, when Chahal's mother came to the U.S. with her and applied for asylum. As sometimes happens with the first lawyer an immigrant retains, Chahal's mother did not receive a fair hearing when the case was finally heard in 2003, said Jeanne Butterfield, special counsel, of The Raben Group, who was on the teleconference. Attempts to reopen the case took several years and the deportation order was exercised despite the ongoing appeal.
Immigration reform advocates contend that Chahal's case never should have gotten this far. Prosecutorial discretion has already allowed agents in the field to make decisions about individual cases using the agency's guidance about priorities, they contend.
Priya Murthy of the South Asian Americans Leading Together, called the case "simply appalling." Asian and South Asians comprise a large number of the undocumented which span all classes, she said. Indians alone, are the sixth largest group of undocumented immigrants she said.
High school teacher Freeman called Chahal "one of the two or three most-memorable students among the thousands" he has taught, describing her presence as "magical."
"One Dollar For Life" won the 2009 Outstanding Youth Philanthropy of the Year award from the Silicon Valley Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Without Mandeep's work, the group, which has built schools in Kenya, Nepal, Nicaragua and Indonesia—nor the award—would not have been possible, Freeman said. He further cited her work in Amnesty International and in human rights organizations, but it was her "grace," as he put it that set her apart.
"It's hard to describe, it's as if she is able to gather up into herself all the pains of the world and convince people to act on a cause larger than themselves."
Support began to build after a small article by Jasmine Xu on the Los Altos High School publication, The Talon's online edition was linked from Facebook Sunday. Her friends and their mothers have been calling Sens. Boxer and Feinstein's offices, Rep. Eshoo's office, and faxing the ICE via a participation page on America's Voice.
A copy of the Morton Memo is contained on a pdf document above.