Story of 2019 Death of 6-Year-Old Sikh Girl Still Haunts U.S. Border Policy Record

A landscape photo of the desert environment in Mexico at sunset.When Title 42 was passed, alongside the Trump Administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, it didn’t stem the tide of migrants attempting to enter the U.S. in order to seek asylum. Instead, it pushed it farther inward.

Because migrants caught within a few miles of the border could be released without being considered for amnesty status, they were forced to take more desperate measures. Many families chose to swim across the Rio Grande — a deadly prospect — or to brave a hike across the desert in triple-digit heat, with limited to no access to drinking water.

The latter circumstances are responsible for one tragic death that grabbed national headlines: 6-year-old Gurupreet Kaur was found dead from heat exposure by border patrol a day after her mom had left her in the care of others while going in search of water. Stories like these would not happen in a reality where asylum policies were more humane and more organized, giving everyone the ability to legally request asylum at the border instead of being forced to make a more dangerous journey inward.

Migrant Deaths Far From Rare, Set Records in 2022

A February 2023 report issued by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) recorded 1,701 remains recovered from 2017 – 2021. Of those remains whose nationality could be identified, the majority were determined to have been from Mexico. One stunning trend was the sudden increase in heat-exposure-related deaths beginning in 2021, which accounted for 41% of total identifiable causes of death over the four-year studied period.

What’s most shocking, though, is the steep rise in deaths in FY 2022: 853. This is more than double every prior year on record, save the year immediately before, which recorded a then-record of 568 deaths.

Each one of these tragic passings matters, but stories like Kaur’s can hit particularly close to home.

U.S. Immigration Attorney Deepak Ahluwalia, who represented Gurupreet’s mother in asylum proceedings through the non-profit Sikh Coalition, said that his heart sank when he saw the girl’s last name and realized she was from Punjab, like him.

“It hurts even more when you have a connection with that person,” he said in a quote in a 2019 CNN article. “My parents were from Punjab; I represent a lot of South Asians, and it’s just disheartening to see stuff like this.”

As for the parents, which include a father who had already been granted asylum in the U.S. prior to the girl’s journey, they are filled with regret but wish that others would understand their need to find safety away from religious and political persecution in their homeland.

A statement released by the parents by the Sikh Coalition read: “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 released by the nonprofit 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 harm’s way unless they are desperate.”

The family’s story is, unfortunately, far from unique, as in 2022, an entire family of four was found frozen at the U.S.’s north border.

In the majority of these situations, these families and individuals are misled by illegitimate “travel agencies” — really smuggling operations — that charge tens of thousands of dollars for trips to U.S. border countries. The last leg of these trips is often dangerous or deadly, as individuals are told to travel in a certain direction without any advice to wear certain clothing, carry extra drinking water, or avoid extreme temperatures, generally.

Singh Ahluwalia Attorneys at Law Wants to Assist You in Your Immigration Case

Featured in media including CNN, the BBC, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, and others, attorney Deepak Ahluwalia has become recognized not just for his expertise on immigration law but also his compassion towards individuals in need.

If you or a loved one are seeking asylum or otherwise engaged in a case involving U.S. immigration law, our immigration lawyers can be here to assist you. Find out how we could help during a confidential, no-obligation case review when you call 559-878-4958 or contact us online.